Migrant Drownings in Pacific Soared 3,200% After Trump Raised Border Wall: Study

The Trump administration nearly doubled the height of the border barrier as part of its “zero tolerance” immigration agenda.

By Brett Wilkins. Published 3-8-2024 by Common Dreams

Border Field State Park / Imperial Beach, San Diego, California. Photo: Tony Webster/Wikimedia Commons/CC

The number of migrants drowning in the Pacific Ocean while attempting to enter the United States from Tijuana, Mexico skyrocketed by 3,200% after the Trump administration dramatically increased the height of the border barrier extending into the southern California sea, a study published Thursday revealed.

The study—published in JAMA, the American Medical Association’s journal—found that 33 people drowned while trying to swim across the southern border between 2020-23, compared with just one death in the previous four years. Researchers tied the soaring fatalities to the Trump administration’s decision to raise the height of the border wall from 17 feet to 30 feet as part of its “zero tolerance” immigration agenda.

“This height change has been associated with an increased rate of severe injuries seen by trauma surgery departments in San Diego, California,” the paper notes.

The study also reported an increase in fatal accidents and a 400% spike in serious injuries caused by migrants falling from the wall.

Study co-author Anna Lussier, a student at the University of California San Diego (UCSD) School of Medicine, told the Times of San Diego that the idea for the paper came amid a dearth of data on migrant drownings in the Pacific.

“Lifeguards showed us a presentation on migrant rescues they were performing because of potential human smuggling,” she explained. “Their stories weren’t showing up in the news, and the numbers struck me as odd.”

Study co-author Peter Lindholm, a professor-in-residence at the UCSD School of Medicine, said he and Lussier are conducting further research to determine exactly how migrants drowned.

“Drowning is the endpoint of death in the water, but we’re trying to determine the actual cause of death: Hypothermia? Hypoxia? Swimming-induced pulmonary edema?” he told the Times of San Diego.

The study also found that migrant drownings in the Rio Grande decreased from 97 in 2016-19 to 96 in the following four years.

Higher walls and other barriers including the razor-wrapped buoys installed by Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in the Rio Grande have not deterred migrants from attempting the perilous border crossing. Unlawful crossings of the southern frontier have shot up in recent years.

U.S. President Joe Biden—a Democrat facing a tough reelection campaign in which immigration is a key issue—has responded to the border surge with an unrequited willingness to work with Republicans and adopt some of their anti-migrant policies to stem the flow.

Last year, the Biden administration waived more than two dozen environmental laws in order fast-track construction on Texas sections of the border wall championed by former President Donald Trump, the presumptive 2024 Republican nominee.

This work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0).

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