EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Dr. Susan McLean has seen a rising number of injuries borne of falls from the border wall – from 97 in 2019 to an average of 250 each of the past two years.
The injuries range from broken legs where the bone protrudes from the skin to crippling spinal damage. Most of the victims are migrants coming into the U.S. between ports of entry.
“Crossing the border can definitely be dangerous. We see anything from amputations from train injuries, automobile versus pedestrian accidents but lately more falls from heights,” said McLean, a Texas Tech University surgery faculty member in El Paso. “If you look at the wall, there’s no way someone who’s not train could climb down from that thing. […] Many of them are scared, they seem surprised that they’re there and, definitely , none of them expected to be in an emergency room.”
And, in a few days, you can add to that the danger of drowning in the irrigation canals that run parallel to the border wall. The International Boundary and Water Commission intends to release Rio Grande water on May 12 and it is expected to reach the canals in El Paso on May 15-16.
U.S. Border Patrol Sector Chief Agent Scott Good border agents have participated in 167 rescues and recorded 29 fatalities so far this year compared to 493 rescues and 55 deaths in all fiscal year 2022.
His advice for migrants is to avoid coming into the country illegally and above all not to place their lives in the hands of smugglers.
“They’re not going to tell you, ‘Oh, yes, when you make it through that obstacle (the border wall), there’s this other obstacle (the canals),” Good said. “A canal is designed to suck up debris and self-clean; it will suck people down as well (but) smugglers are not going to tell you about those dangers.”
The Border Patrol on Tuesday illustrated those dangers for members of the U.S. and Mexico news media at their annual “Dangers of crossing the border” safety event. It’s a binational, bilingual campaign to let migrants know that coming over the border wall and just walking to their destination of choice is not as easy as smugglers who work for transnational criminal organizations (the cartels) tell them it is.
The demonstration included an El Paso Fire Department crew using a ladder truck to “rescue” a person stuck atop the border wall and Border Patrol BORSTAR agents providing first aid to a “migrant” that had fallen off the 18-foot-tall structure.
“As soon as we approach, we need to know how badly the person is injured,” said Agent Jose Gil, a member of the Border Patrol’s BORSTAR rescue unit. “If the person is conscious, we ask him how badly he’s hurt, if he landed on his feet and if he’s somewhat stable. After that, we ask what happened, where the injury is, provide assistance” and request an ambulance, if needed.
Gil said migrants often tell him they “freeze” after the smugglers provide them ladders to go up the border wall and then abandon them. “The fence is pretty high and that’s not a situation (the migrant) was prepared for. They (the smugglers) don’t tell them to bring enough water, they don’t care if they don’t know how to swim. For them, you’re just money,” Gil said.
The canals distribute Rio Grande water to numerous farms in El Paso, Socorro, Fabens, Tornillo and other small Far West Texas communities. The concrete-lined structures carry no more than one to two feet of water during the off-season, but in late spring and summer the water level rises to six to seven feet. That’s enough to swallow a person.
“The problem is we have some headgates that stir up the water like a washing machine. That’s a really dangerous area. The best advice is not to try to get in,” said the seven-year veteran of BOSTAR.
Another danger, especially once 100-degree weather hit the Southwestern United States, is migrants being smuggled out of the border in the back of semi-trucks. Agents locked reporters in the back of one such truck for about 10 minutes.
“This perspective is not (realistic) because we have room to move,” said Border Patrol Agent Fidel Baca, who was in the truck with journalists. “Normally, they have no room to move. We’re not experiencing the triple-digit heat of summer months. When we find these vehicles they’re saturated, people have to do their bodily needs in a corner, and they don’t know where they’re going. Denver, San Antonio, Houston are many hours away.”
The Mexican consulate and Spanish-speaking media are helping the Border Patrol spread the word about the danger that awaits migrants this spring and summer.