Treating injured migrants who fall over border wall becomes new normal in small New Mexico town

Border Report

Border Patrol says smugglers encouraging migrants to climb border wall; Sunland Park fire cheif says many lose grip, break limbs on way down

SUNLAND PARK, New Mexico (Border Report) – A woman from Mexico suffered serious head injuries falling over a 14-foot stretch of border wall this week in what officials describe as an illegal crossing attempt.

U.S. Border Patrol agents and Sunland Park Fire Department personnel arrived to render aid and a helicopter transported the 39-year-old woman to El Paso’s University Medical Center – a level 1 trauma facility – for further treatment. The unidentified migrant remained in critical condition late Thursday.

Wednesday morning’s incident was the latest in a string of recent emergency calls involving injured migrants that first responders in this southern New Mexico border town have answered.

“The last six to eight months we’ve been seeing five to 10 border wall accidents per week. Some days it’s just one, some days it could be three or four,” said Sunland Park Fire Chief Daniel Medrano. “Most injuries we see are lower extremity: people holding on to the top of the wall and losing their grip and falling … breaking ankles, breaking legs, some back and shoulder injuries. Things typical of a fall from that height.”

Medrano said most of his firefighters are also certified emergency medical technicians or paramedics. That training has come in handy now that treating injured migrants has become part of the routine.

Sunland Park, N.M., Fire Chief Daniel Medrano (photo by Julian Resendiz)

“This is a very new situation for us, what’s going on at the border wall,” Medrano said. “We really don’t know why so many migrants are coming to the Sunland Park-Anapra (Mexico) area to cross over. […] That wall is thick metal, and most people aren’t strong enough to hold themselves securely to get down safely.”

Border wall lines most of Sunland Park’s southside. Like El Paso, its neighbor to the east across the Texas state line, crime here is low and even residential fires are infrequent. Still, Border Patrol vehicles and U.S. Customs and Border Protection helicopters armed with an array of cameras constantly hover over the town of 17,000.

The reason? Border Patrol current and former officials say the area is one of the El Paso Sector’s hot spots for migrant smuggling. The rugged mountain with an iconic Christ the King statue on top that sits between Mexico and the United States is allegedly exploited by criminal organizations that operate out of the Anapra neighborhood of Juarez, Mexico.

Anapra has had its share of murders this year and gangs associated with both the La Linea and Sinaloa cartels are known to operate there. U.S. security analysts say the gangs often accompany migrants as far as the wall, then leave them to their own devices – even if they’re children. That’s what happened in late March when two men took two Ecuadorian toddlers and dropped them from the top of the border wall to the ground while Border Patrol security cameras documented the incident. The girls ages 3 and 5 were rescued by Border Patrol and have since been reunited with their parents in New York.

Medrano, who retired as a captain from the El Paso Fire Department and has been Sunland Park fire chief for a year, said sometimes migrants come over the mountain and try to make a run for residential areas in Sunland Park – which are only a few yards from the wall.

“In the Anapra area the wall is about 30-foot but will drop down to 14 feet. For some reason, where we’re seeing a lot of the entries is at the 30-foot part of the wall. Unfortunately, once they climb, they don’t have a way to (safely) get down,” he said.

U.S. Border Patrol El Paso Sector Chief Gloria I. Chavez lays the blame on the smugglers.

“Once again, transnational criminal organizations who hire guides and smugglers to actively encourage people to climb a 14-foot border barrier to enter illegally into the United States have placed another human being at risk of serious injury,” said El Paso Sector Border Patrol Chief Gloria Chavez. “I sincerely hope she can make a full recovery.”

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