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Migrants say they were seriously hurt in fall from border wall, then expelled to Mexico without medical treatment

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PALOMAS, Mexico – Jhon Jairo, a 25-year-old migrant from Ecuador, said his dream of reaching the United States ended when he fell off the border wall just west of El Paso. 

Pedro, 37, of Guatemala was so determined after he injured himself toppling off the top of the 30-foot-tall barrier that he “crawled on hands and knees” away from the structure near Santa Teresa because he couldn’t walk. 

The men are now recovering in a migrant shelter in this desolate border town nearly 100 miles from where they were picked up by Border Patrol. They were swiftly returned to Mexico under Title 42, a pandemic policy enacted by the Trump administration and continued by the Biden administration to control the spread of COVID-19. U.S. officials say they have no record of the men saying they were injured when they were apprehended.

Pedro said Border Patrol agents told him he would be sent to a hospital in the United States. “But to my surprise, they dropped me off here.”  He has casts on both his legs and sits in a wheelchair at the Tierra de Oro shelter in Palomas, which is across the border from Columbus, N.M.

Pedro wipes away tears as he thinks of his family back in Guatemala. The father of four is recovering at a migrant shelter in the tiny border town of Palomas, Chihuahua. (Angela Kocherga/El Paso Matters)

Jhon Jairo spends most of his days lying flat on a bunk bed in pain with back and pelvis injuries. He said he told the Border Patrol agents who found him at the foot of the wall he was in severe pain but his pleas “fell on deaf ears.” 

“I told them I couldn’t move,” he said. “But they said ‘stand up, stand up.’ I don’t know where I found the strength.”

Both men said they were sent to Mexico without medical attention.  El Paso Matters generally does not publish the full names of migrants to protect them from potential retaliation.

Border Patrol denies it is dumping injured migrants in Mexico.

“When it is apparent that someone is hurt, we will administer first aid and request assistance as needed,” El Paso Sector Border Patrol Chief Gloria Chavez said in an emailed statement She said medical assistance may include a Border Patrol agent trained as an emergency medical technician or “possibly an ambulance service depending on the severity and complexity of the injury.”

Immigration enforcement officials dispute that the men at the Palomas shelter needed medical care when they were expelled to Mexico. 

“Our records indicate that neither individual you mention presented illness or injury during their brief encounters with our agents,” according to an email from U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Pedro broke both his ankles when he fell off the border wall just west of El Paso. He says he was quickly returned to Mexico without medical attention and only got help at a shelter in the border town of Palomas. (Angela Kocherga/El Paso Matters)

Pastor Rosalio Sosa, director of Red de Albergues Para Migrantes, or RAM, a network of shelters that includes the Palomas facility, describes the actions of the Border Patrol agents who returned migrants with serious injuries as “negligence.” 

Sosa said the Border Patrol routinely sends migrants to Palomas with a range of injuries from minor to severe, including those who are injured when they fall off the border fence.

“They just pick them up and send them over here. No wheelchair, nothing. Not even a Tylenol,” Sosa said. 

The shelter in Palomas opened last year as Title 42 took effect. It’s one of the return points for migrants taken into custody and swiftly expelled.

In January, the Border Patrol apprehended more than 2,400 people a day along the Mexican border, according to CBP data. Agents in the El Paso sector, which includes Far West Texas and all of New Mexico, apprehended about 340 people a day last month.

CBP attributes an increase in crossings since April to “several factors, including underlying crime and instability in migrants’ home countries, which have been exacerbated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and inaccurate perceptions of shifts in immigration and border security policies.”

Border Patrol estimates that between March 20, 2020, and February 4, 2021, 38 percent of all encounters involved recidivism, or individuals who have been apprehended more than once. Expulsions don’t result in a deportation record, so people re-entering after an expulsion wouldn’t be subject to felony charges that can happen to those who return after being ordered removed by a judge.

Jhon Jairo rests on a bunk bed at the Tierra de Oro migrant shelter in Palomas, Mexico.  The migrant from Ecuador injured his back and pelvis when he fell from the top of the border fence near Sunland Park in early February. (Angela Kocherga/El Paso Matters)

More migrants are climbing over the border fence in the El Paso sector, often using ladders, according to residents who live near the barrier in Puerto Anapra, across Sunland Park. That’s despite the fact the Trump administration upgraded the barricade to a 30-foot-tall bollard style structure. 

Those who fall can suffer serious injuries. “Not all injuries are immediately visible,” said Leva Jusionyte, author of the book “Threshold: Emergency Responders on the US-Mexico Border.” She’s worked as a paramedic and is a professor of international security and anthropology at Brown University. 

The protocols for emergency responders is that if anyone falls from the height of more than double their heights, they need to be evaluated at the hospital,” Justionyte said.

The higher border fence is part of an enforcement strategy designed to deter illegal crossings by making it more difficult and dangerous.

“But that just hasn’t happened,” she said. “The border infrastructure is getting deadlier and people’s reasons for moving are increasing, as well so it is just a bad combination.”  

Ruben Garcia, director of Annunciation House, an organization that provides temporary shelter for migrants and refugees in El Paso, says his shelter is receiving more migrants with serious injuries from falling off the border fence. 

“When I say serious injuries. I’m talking about fractured legs in multiple places, fractured ankles, broken hips, pelvises, broken ribs, spinal injuries, a good number of people with spinal injuries,” Garcia said.

Garcia said the “dramatic” increase in injuries started in the last six months to a year. He said as many as three migrants a week who have fallen off the border fence arrive at Annunciation House. They’re sent to the hospital first by Border Patrol, according to Garcia. Most of those getting medical care are are women from Central America, he said.

“They’re not able to hold on when they’re trying to come down and you’re talking about falls that could be from a 30 feet type thing,” Garcia said.

Cover photo: The upgraded 30-foot high border fence between Sunland Park, New Mexico, and Anapra, Chihuahua, has not stopped migrants from climbing over the barrier, often using ladders. More are scaling the structure resulting in dangerous — and sometimes deadly — consequences. (Angela Kocherga/El Paso Matters)

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Angela Kocherga

Angela Kocherga is multimedia editor for El Paso Matters. She has dedicated her career as a journalist to reporting stories on both sides of the border for readers, viewers and public radio listeners. She previously served as Mexico City and Border Bureau Chief for a group of television stations. She also serves as news director at public radio KTEP. You can listen to stories by her on air at 88.5 FM and online at KTEP.org.

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