Overcrowded motor vehicle trauma from the smuggling of illegal immigrants in the desert of the Southwest

Mary F Lumpkin, Dan Judkins, John M Porter, Rifat Latifi, Mark D Williams
American Surgeon 2004, 70 (12): 1078-82
Overcrowded motor vehicle crashes caused by the very active criminal enterprise of smuggling illegal immigrants in the desert of the Southwest is a recent and under-recognized trauma etiology. A computerized database search from 1990 through 2003 of local newspaper reports of overcrowded motor vehicle crashes along the 281 miles of Arizona's border with Mexico was conducted. This area was covered by two level I trauma centers, but since July 2003 is now served only by the University Medical Center. Each of these crashes involved a single motor vehicle in poor mechanical shape packed with illegal immigrants. Speeding out of control on bad tires, high-speed rollovers result in ejection of most passengers. Since 1999, there have been 38 crashes involving 663 passengers (an average of 17 per vehicle) with an injury rate of 49 per cent and a mortality rate of 9 per cent. This relatively recent phenomenon (no reports from before 1998) of trauma resulting from human smuggling is lethal and demonstrates the smugglers' wanton disregard for human life, particularly when facing apprehension. Even a few innocent bystanders have been killed. These crashes overwhelm a region's trauma resources and must be recognized when planning the distribution of trauma resources to border states.

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