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Trump's Border Walls Have Been Causing Injuries As People Climb Over Them

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The Trump administration put up hundreds of miles of wall 18 to 30 feet high along the U.S.-Mexico border. President Biden has since halted construction, but that has not stopped unauthorized migrants from trying to cross. Authorities encountered more than 100,000 just last month. A few of them are simply climbing over the border wall and suffering serious injuries as a result. Angela Kocherga from member station KTEP in El Paso, Texas, reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF HELICOPTER DRONING)

ANGELA KOCHERGA, BYLINE: People living along this stretch of border west of El Paso just have to look up to know this is a hotspot for smugglers moving migrants across the border. Customs and Border Protection helicopters fly overhead day and night.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking Spanish).

KOCHERGA: These teens peeking through the fence from the Mexican side tell me they see a lot of people climbing over the barrier, many using ladders. That's despite the fact the Trump administration upgraded the old barricade to a 30-foot-tall bollard-style structure.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Speaking Spanish).

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KOCHERGA: Two of the men who tried to scale the fence near El Paso in recent weeks and fell are now at a migrant shelter in the desolate Mexican border town Palomas, nearly 100 miles away. They're recovering from serious injuries.

JHON JAIRO USHCA ALCOSER: (Speaking Spanish).

KOCHERGA: Jhon Jairo Ushca Alcoser, a 25-year-old barber from Ecuador, says his dream of reaching the U.S. ended at the foot of the wall. Pedro Gomez, a 37-year-old man from Guatemala, tells me he slipped and toppled off the top of the wall, also landing on the U.S. side.

PEDRO GOMEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

KOCHERGA: They're among a growing number of desperate migrants climbing the border barrier with dangerous and sometimes deadly consequences. Unauthorized border crossings either over the wall or around it have steadily increased during the pandemic. The vast majority of people are quickly expelled to Mexico under a Trump-era policy meant to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

GOMEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

KOCHERGA: Gomez, a father of four and a day laborer, now has casts on both ankles and sits in a wheelchair. Ushca Alcoser lies on a bunk bed.

GOMEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

KOCHERGA: Gomez says he was crawling on his hands and knees when approached by Border Patrol agents and told agents he was in pain. Ushca Alcoser says he told agents he couldn't move after his fall.

USHCA ALGOSER: (Speaking Spanish).

KOCHERGA: Even so, the men say they were quickly returned to Mexico without medical care. According to Border Patrol, neither individual, quote, "presented illness or injury during their brief encounters with our agents." But Pastor Rosalio Sosa, who runs the migrant shelter where the two men are recovering, says they aren't the only ones.

ROSALIO SOSA: They just pick them up and - no wheelchairs, no nothing, not even a Tylenol.

KOCHERGA: Border Patrol does not track border wall injuries but reports deaths, including a pregnant woman who fell off the wall last year. According to El Paso Border Patrol Chief Gloria Chavez, when it's apparent someone is hurt, agents administer first aid and request an ambulance if needed. Ruben Garcia, director of Annunciation House, sees some of the badly injured migrants at the shelter after they're released from the hospital in El Paso.

RUBEN GARCIA: I'm talking about fractured legs in multiple places, fractured ankles, broken hips, ulcers, broken ribs, spinal injuries.

KOCHERGA: Immigration hardliners say the wall has worked. The higher barrier is part of an enforcement strategy designed to deter unauthorized crossings by making it more difficult and dangerous. But it hasn't stopped everyone.

IEVA JUSIONYTE: And the falls from that height - it results in multi-system traumas.

KOCHERGA: Ieva Jusionyte is author of the book "Threshold: Emergency Responders On The U.S.-Mexico Border." She has worked as a paramedic and is a professor of international security and anthropology at Brown University.

JUSIONYTE: The border infrastructure is getting deadlier, and people's reasons for moving are increasing as well. So it is just a bad combination.

KOCHERGA: A bad combination that comes as even more migrants arrive at the border, fleeing crime, poverty and natural disasters in their home countries. For NPR News, I'm Angela Kocherga in El Paso.

(SOUNDBITE OF FRANZ FERDINAND SONG, "40 FT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.