More Mexicans are dying in their attempts to reach San Diego from Tijuana
More Mexican nationals are dying along the U.S.-Mexico border between the San Diego and Tijuana regions in their attempt to enter the U.S. than in previous years, according to new data from the Mexican Consulate in San Diego.
From October 2021 through September 2022, at least 46 Mexican nationals died in their attempt to cross the border between the two regions. That’s up from 34 in the previous twelve months and 11 in the year before that. The data from the consulate runs from October to September, aligning with the federal fiscal year.
Dehydration, drownings and border wall-related fatalities all account for the increases in deaths. The majority of injuries documented were related to falls from the U.S.-Mexico border wall and ranged from brain damage to broken shoulders, backs and legs.
Carlos González Gutiérrez, consul general of Mexico in San Diego, discouraged Mexican migrants from attempting to cross the border without proper documentation.
“Undocumented Mexican nationals willing to cross to the U.S. in between ports of entry, should be aware of deceitful human smugglers who distort reality, create false expectations, and expose migrants to severe injuries or death,” González Gutiérrez said in a press release.
The increase in deaths is accompanied by record breaking migration numbers to the U.S. over the past few years. In fiscal year 2022, the southwest land border, which includes the border along California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, saw more than 2.4 million migrant arrivals.
More migrants arriving at the border means more deaths, according to Theresa Cardinal Brown, managing director of immigration and cross-border policy at the Washington D.C.-based Bipartisan Policy Center.
And historic migration levels to the U.S. don’t show any sign of slowing, she said.
“We have to recognize that that's not a blip, that is a new reality,” Cardinal Brown said.
The U.S. has long used the “prevention through deterrence” strategy to tamp down on migration. Those efforts have included increasing enforcement in urban regions to drive undocumented migrants toward more dangerous routes, including through remote desert regions and up the California coastline.
Migrants desperate enough continue to take risky journeys to enter the U.S. and are doing so in increasing numbers in the past few years, Cardinal Brown said.
“That inevitably is going to lead to more injuries and more deaths … that combination of desperation and our measures,” she said.
Immigration advocates like Pedro Rios, program director for the American Friends Service Committee’s U.S.-Mexico Border program, remain “extremely concerned” by the increase in deaths.
“The takeaway here is that the current border policies continue to be a failure,” Rios said, adding that immigration policy that focuses on deterrence increases deaths along the border and leaves humanitarian needs unmet.
The deaths reported by the Mexican Consulate are only one part of the full picture of fatalities along the border locally, Rios said, because they do not account for migrants from other countries and some deaths go undiscovered.
Dehydration was the largest single cause of death among Mexican nationals in fiscal year 2022, likely among those who attempted to cross between ports of entry through the rural desert region in southeastern San Diego County.
Numerous fatalities have been documented in this region over the years as migrants make the risky journey through mountainous, dry terrain where they are vulnerable to the natural elements and environmental exposure.
Fatal injuries related to the border wall accounted for the second largest share of deaths among Mexican nationals in 2021 and 2022, but no deaths in 2020, according to data from the Mexican Consulate.
A recent study from trauma doctors at UC San Diego Health linked a fivefold increase in admissions of patients with border wall fall injuries after the wall was nearly doubled to 30 feet under former President Trump in 2019.
Drownings accounted for the third largest share of deaths in 2022 among Mexican nationals.
Maritime crossing attempts, which often look like smugglers leading migrants on crowded fishing boats from the coast of Baja to San Diego, sometimes lead to deaths as the boats capsize or crash onto rocky reefs along the coast.
Data from a handful of government agencies operating in Southern California noted an increase in smuggling arrests along the coastline in recent years.
The consulate's data tracks injuries among Mexican nationals as young as 13 and as old as 88. From fiscal years 2020 through 2022, more people under 20 and over 40 were injured in their attempts to cross the U.S.-Mexico border.
The majority of injuries among Mexican nationals in 2022 – 80% – were related to falling from the border wall. The remaining were related to dehydration, heat stroke and other causes, according to the consulate.