When Héctor Almeida Gil was at the top of the border fence, he suddenly saw others rushing to climb, desperate.
The 33-year-old Cuban dentist was with a group of migrants trying to jump over one of the 30-foot-high barriers that separate Mexico and the United States in the state of California.
the fence is the highest on the border, built during the government of donald trumpwho many times assured that this “beautiful wall” that he ordered to be built would be “impassable”.
But many migrants seek to jump it almost every day. Some make it, others are arrested, and an alarming number are severely injured trying.
Almeida did so at the end of April supported by a ladder that they use the traffickerss of migrants to take them to the other side.
But when the Mexican police approached the place, the other members of the group hurried up the stairs and the Cuban could only hold on to the bars to avoid a fall worse than the one he had.
He was somewhat “lucky”, because he “only” broke one leg. But she saw a woman fall and break both limbs, and another man sustain a severe head injury.
Almeida was admitted to a hospital at the University of California at San Diego (UCSD), a city with two counties bordering Mexico where they have been registered. 375 injured and 16 fatalities from 2019 to 2021, most victims of falls on the fence.
This is five times more than what was recorded between 2016-2018 and coincides with the installation of the 9-meter fence, which is more dangerous to climb than those that were before, between 3 and 5 metersaccording to a study led by Dr. Amy Liepert of UCSD.
The most common injuries are limb fractures, mainly in the legs. Usually it is about quite serious fracturesnot from a simple break in a part of the bone, ”he explains to BBC Mundo.
The “impenetrable” wall
Starting in the 1990s, the US government began building various types of border barriers on its border with Mexico.
One of the most common is a metal fence with vertical bars installed throughout urban areas, and some mountainous or desert areas, in the states of California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.
But there are points without any border fence, something that Donald Trump promised to cover with a “beautiful wall”, higher than any other: “It’s practically impassable“he said when authorizing its construction.
One of the chosen prototypes was a metal fence of bars of 9 meters (30 feet)and metal plates in its upper part, which was installed mainly in the states of California and Arizona.
Although it has not been insurmountable for the migrants, who are carried up stairs higher than 9 meters, it has been more dangerous.
“What we found when we compared a six-year period is that there was a big difference from 2016, 17, 18 compared to 2019, 20, 21. In those first three years, we found 67 trauma patients admitted with trauma injuries. border wall,” explains Liepert.
“And in the second triennium we found 375 patients.”
In the past three years also 16 people lost their lives on the California border, according to Liepert’s study. And in Arizona, last April a migrant died of suffocation after being hung upside down for hours.
In the previous three years, the number of deaths due to jumping the fence was zero.
Liepert explains that the injuries seen in recent years they are not light and correspond to serious falls.
“The bones that we are seeing broken are often in multiple placeswith many soft tissue injuries, which is more consistent with a fall from a great height“, explains the doctor.
“But we have also seen skull fractures and traumatic brain injuries, facial fractures, pelvic fractures“, keep going.
His investigation covers what happened in California, but Liepert says he has learned of similar cases in the other border states “Some data is starting to come out from other trauma centers. None of that has been published so far,” she notes.
On the Mexican side there has been no documentary research like the one published at the end of April by Liepert and his colleagues in the scientific journal JAMA Surgery.
When consulted in this regard, the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Office did not offer a response on these indicators of more victims.
According to the newspaper Washington Postin the CBP there is no record of the number of people injured in their attempt to cross the border fence.
What is clear is that the number of arrests of undocumented migrants reached record levels at the end of 2020 and the first nine months of 2021which is usually an indication of a wave of migrants trying to reach US soil.
In fiscal year 2021, more than 1.7 million people were arrested after crossing the border, originating from 160 countries. Most were migrants from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Mexico.
For hospitals like the one at UCSD, treating migrants in trauma areas has also become a growing expense for which they don’t get paid.
“These patients by definition are immigrants. They do not have health insurance and many of them do not have any type of self-financing. And therefore, they do not have any insurance. So I understand that much of the care is not compensated, “explains the doctor.
“It is my understanding that Border Patrol protection would pay for patients who remain in their custody. But we have observed that many of these patients are released before they are discharged from the hospital.”
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