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Researchers find 3200% increase in migrant drownings since border wall growth

Posted at 7:45 AM, Mar 12, 2024

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — Researchers from UC San Diego report the number of migrants drowning in the Pacific Ocean has jumped 3,200% since 2020, and researchers think it's because the border wall grew.

The border wall is now 30 feet tall, but it used to be 17 feet back in 2019.

The height grew under the Trump administration, and UCSD researchers think that change could've led migrants to take other routes to enter the United States.

Anna Lussier, an M.D. PhD student, and Dr. Peter Lindholm conducted the research with a few goals in mind, including helping policymakers make more informed decisions and to help first responders.

Hundreds of migrants try to enter the U.S. through the ocean every year. In June 2023, Border Patrol agents in Imperial Beach reported seeing an increase in the number of migrants swimming across the border.

They said in that same year, in May alone, there were five incidents.

More have happened since.

ABC 10News has covered panga boats washing up on San Diego beaches, like in Ocean Beach two months ago when six migrants walked off a panga boat.

Those migrants were lucky, as dozens of others have drowned on their journeys to the U.S.

Dr. Lussier and Dr. Lindholm found that only one migrant drowning death was recorded in the Pacific between 2016 and 2019, before the border wall grew in size, but between 2020 and 2023, the number grew to 33.

Border advocate Pedro Rios, with the American Friends Service Committee, has worked with migrants for years and said the trend is concerning.

"It's tragic because oftentimes these family members meant to provide for their children back home and once they die that entire family is broken," said Rios.

The research also shows that drownings have also increased in other bodies of water like canals.

Before the border wall grew, there were 49 drownings in canals, but after it grew the number jumped to 64 drownings.

In other bodies of water, there was a 133.3% increase. The number of drownings grew from 15 to 35, according to UCSD researchers.

"The solution is that President Biden and representatives of other countries recommit to protecting asylum. Once they do that, they can allow people to seek out these dangerous ways of crossing into the United States," said Rios.

UC San Diego researchers this is a public health issue and plan to continue their study. They want to be able to expand their research to other areas of our border.