Opinion: More people are dying trying to climb the U.S.-Mexico border wall. Here’s how we end that.

Crews moved the last panel in the 14-mile $147 million primary fence replacement project into place on Friday, August 9, 2019, just east of the San Ysidro Port of Entry.
(John Gibbins/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The number of traumatic injuries from falls by immigrants trying to get over the border wall has increased nearly fivefold.

Vargas represents District 1 on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors. She serves as vice chair and lives in the South Bay.

If you spend a couple of minutes on social media or watching the local news, you’ll quickly become aware of the tragedies that are happening across the globe. They have become so prevalent in the media that often we can become desensitized to the level of catastrophe that many people are experiencing today.

Nora Vargas, Pedro Rios and Dr. Amy E. Liepert write about a surge in deaths and injuries from immigrants scaling and falling off a taller border wall.

War, persecution, crime and hunger. These are just some of the horrors that many individuals are trying to escape today and why they are seeking a better future. While many of these situations are happening far from home, the effects and impacts of these issues are being felt locally in our county and particularly in the South County in the Board of Supervisors District 1. Stories published in our local media last month about migrants attempting to bypass the border fence only to fail, resulting in serious injuries or horrific deaths, are a grim reminder of the crisis developing in our south region.

As the number of immigrants and refugees at our border increases, so too has the number of individuals sustaining severe injuries while attempting to climb and get over the border wall into the U.S. In some cases, these desperate men and women, hoping for a better future, don’t survive. They sustain fatal injuries that tragically end their journey.


County data shows that in the last three years, the number of traumatic injuries from falls by immigrants trying to get over the border wall has increased nearly fivefold. In 2019, 87 people sustained significant trauma after attempting to scale and get over the 30-foot border wall. One individual died. In 2020, 139 people sustained severe injuries and one died. In 2021, 394 sustained severe injuries and 12 lost their lives attempting to cross this way. In total over those three years, 620 individuals sustained severe injuries and 14 people died while trying to scale and get over the border wall. Already this year, two more deaths have been attributed to border wall falls by the county Medical Examiner’s Office.

These numbers, which are exclusive for San Diego County, are alarming and with the significant increase of immigrants reaching our border we can only assume that these numbers may increase in the future.

There are two results for these incidents of individuals who become injured while trying to jump the border wall, and unfortunately both end in tragedy. First, people who attempt entry into the country in this manner and fall can sustain severe injuries that leave them in need of weeks of critical care in our health-care facilities. The result is a swift return to their place of origin with a remaining need for long-term care and for rehabilitation that they will likely not receive in their country. The second, most tragic, result is the people who attempt to cross the border by scaling the wall and fall can sustain a severe injury that ends their lives.

In every case, these are fathers and mothers or uncles and aunts, or sons and daughters who left their families and homes in search of a better future. They embarked on a long and dreadful journey from their homeland only to become severely disabled or to lose their lives attempting to get over the border wall.

The humanitarian crisis unfolding at the southern border is a clear symptom of the level of desperation that many of these individuals are facing as they seek safety in the United States due to the crises in their home countries related to violence, persecution, poverty and more. While the solutions to the global immigration crisis are, in many ways, out of our hands, it is our duty to do everything we can to save lives at our southern border.

We can do that by collecting and assessing data and sharing information helpful to us and to our partners on the Mexican side of the border. Creating awareness within the migrant community before its members get to the border will save lives. Migrants need to understand the hazards and immense risk that exist in attempting to climb and get over the southern border wall.

If we can advise migrants against scaling and jumping over the fence, we can alleviate hardship for people and families who are already suffering immensely. We’re also saving resources within our health-care system, which is already taxed by the demands of the COVID-19 pandemic.

I call on my colleagues across the border and the nonprofit organizations that currently work on similar causes to spread the message and create awareness so that no more lives are lost.