Give me your huddled masses...


If America is the land of beckoning opportunity, Mexico is the land of bargain operations -- and cheap dental care, and sensibly-priced treatments for chronic illness. At least, that's what Mexico is to about a million Californians each year.

A group of researchers from the University of California at Los Angeles recently added another scuff mark to the travel-worn line that separates the U.S from Mexico. It's old news that many Americans buy antibiotics south of the border, but according to the latest findings, nearly 500,000 of the Californians who cross the border each year on health-related errands are actually Mexican immigrants. Their reasons are somewhat varied, but in the end the situation pretty much boils down to dollars. Mexican immigrants might find work in the U.S., but relatively few find health insurance. Even after living north of the border for 15 years or longer, as many as 30 percent lack general medical insurance and nearly 50 percent lack dental coverage. Those numbers are roughly double the corresponding figures for non-immigrant Caucasians.        The findings put a twist in the refrain that Mexican immigrants stress social services north of the border. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, California was home to 2.5 million unauthorized immigrants -- and 5.4 million Hispanic immigrants total --  in 2008. If half a million are seeking medical care in Mexico, that's a sizable chunk of the population.

"We already know that immigrants use less health care overall than people born in the U.S.," said Steven P. Wallace, associate director of the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research and lead author of the study. "Heading south of the border further reduces the demand on U.S. facilities."

 There is a caveat in the data, though. Most of the immigrants who head south have lived in the U.S. for at least 15 years, have enough money to make the trip worthwhile and, since they're risking a border crossing, probably have their papers as well. That immigrant population doesn't sound like the one that is usually blamed for stressing social services.