Law enforcement agents and immigration advocates are debating the height of a replacement border wall planned at Friendship Park near Imperial Beach.
Those plans, which are on hold for now, call for a 30-foot tall barrier to replace the current 18-foot wall. It's a point of contention between U.S. Customs and Border Protection and those who wish to maintain the culture of the park, as well as advocates concerns about the safety of migrants desperate enough to try and scale the barrier.
The change to 30-foot, bollard-style walls along some parts of the U.S.-Mexico border have proven to be both an effective deterrent, but also a more dangerous, even deadly barrier for people who try to climb it.
"It seemed when the wall went to 30 feet, the number of injuries and severity of the injuries increased quite significantly," Dr. Jay Doucet from the UCSD Trauma Center said.
Dramatic scenes of desperate migrants getting stuck high up on the wall or even dropping their children over it have been caught on USCBP cameras.
A surgery journal published last April reported higher walls in San Diego and Imperial counties accounted for six times the number of injuries, according to Dr. Doucet who added that there were 14 deaths between 2019 and 2021.
"We’ve had two pregnant patients fall from the wall, one of whom lost her baby," Doucet said.
CBP Chief Deputy Patrol Agent Patricia McGurk showed off a makeshift ladder agents have recovered. She says smugglers fashion it with tape, rope and metal to throw up on the walls. Despite the ingenuity, Agent McGurk said the higher bollard-style fences are more effective.
"There is a psychological reason. It’s a high fence. You don’t want to cross it, but it’s also tall enough our agents can see through and see what’s coming at you," McGurk said.
Higher fences reduced the injuries to agents and migrants rushing the wall and would-be climbers can't create a disturbance by throwing large rocks over it, according to McGurk. She also said that injuries at the taller border walls seem to only help the traffickers and work against the short-staffed CBP.
"We get drawn off because somebody falls and hurts themselves and we’re busy with that. They’re like, 'Whatever.' They are just going to keep doing what they are doing with their other stuff along the border," she said.
McGurk calls the flow of border protection a balance between infrastructure, technology and personnel. She says the agency is offering a $10,000 bonbus to entice new recruits. To protect borders throughout the country, McGurk said they need 20,000 agents -- That’s less than half the number of police officers patrolling New York City.
As of July, 159 people trying to scale the fence were injured or killed, according to Doucet.