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San Diego on track for record number of border wall hospitalizations

The number of people hospitalized after falling from the border wall is on pace to surpass last year’s record. KPBS border reporter Gustavo Solis spoke with UCSD Health’s head of trauma about the alarming numbers.

Doctors at UC San Diego Health said the number of patients who fell from the border wall is on pace to break last year’s record number.

“At this rate, we’re going to meet or exceed the numbers from last year,” said Dr. Jay Doucet, chief of the Division of Trauma at UCSD Health.

Last year’s record number was 270 patients — compared to 49 in 2018 and 99 in 2020. This year, the hospital system is on pace to receive more than 300 patients, according to internal statistics from UCSD Health.

UCSD and Scripps Health take turns treating patients who fall from the border. They noticed an increase in both the frequency of border wall patients and the severity of their injuries around the start of the pandemic.

This increase in frequency and severity coincided with the replacement of the 17-foot border wall with a 30-foot wall, as well as the implementation of Title 42, a policy that severely limits asylum to most migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Immigration experts say asylum seekers who would normally be allowed to present themselves at the ports of entry are now blocked from entering under Title 42. Because that legal pathway into the country is blocked, desperate migrants are more likely to cross illegally by trying to climb the fence.

Doucet, who co-authored an academic report on this new phenomenon, said the combination of the taller wall and anti-asylum policy created the “perfect system” for more serious injuries.

“There’s a saying we have in trauma and injury prevention, that is, 'Every system is perfectly designed to achieve the results that it gets,'” he said. “By raising the border wall and also invoking Title 42, we made a perfect system to create severe fractures in patients trying to cross the border.”

The most common injuries are leg fractures, Doucet said. “And frequently those fractures are open, that is, the bone has come out through the skin — which is a nasty kind of fracture,” he added.

Foot fractures are also common. Those usually require multiple surgeries and lengthy hospital stays. Patients have also been hospitalized with severe head injuries, he added.

Mexican officials previously told KPBS that border falls now account for 80% of all migrant injuries.

“I am convinced that the decision to raise the wall up to 30 feet did not stop migration, nor did it deviate it,” said Carlos Gonzalez Gutierrez, Consul General of Mexico in San Diego. “But it certainly increased the number of people who were seriously injured in their attempts to cross.”

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