The US/Mexico border and dental tourism

In light of the recent controversy surrounding senate bill 1070, Arizona’s new immigration law, I thought it would be interesting to share a few words and photos related to the US/Mexico border story on dental tourism that I did a few years ago for the Toronto Star.

View of the US/Mexico border at Andrade, California. (Jason Rothe)

Hilltop overlooking the US/Mexican border at Andrade, CA

Every night at the border between Andrade, California (map) and Los Algodones, Mexico, dozens of men and women sneak onto US soil, where they are watched and pursued by US immigration officials and the National Guard.  I spent a week on the Quechan Indian reservation that hugs the border there (now also the site of a massive casino complex), sleeping in my Volkswagon van atop a small hill surrounded by foot trails in the sand and dust.

Dentist works on a tourist patient in Los Algodones, B.C, Mexico. (Jason Rothe)

Dentist operating on an American patient in Los Algodones, MX

Whereas the days were hot and relatively quiet, the nights were truly surreal.  Black, shark-like military helicopters flew low over the hills and often stopped and hovered nearby.  Several times I heard voices come out of a loudspeaker from above, like some scene out of Apocalypse Now.  While sleeping in the thin tent atop the van I was often awakened by the scuffling sound of people fleeing and/or giving chase among the gravel and prickly desert shrubs below.  And every couple hours the border patrol trucks would slowly crawl past on the sandy roads, making an odd clunking and tinkling sound which I later discerned to be a metal rake which they drag over the dust so as to grade it and make any new footsteps visible come daylight.  Shooting photos early one morning in the pet cemetery there, I met a man camped nearby with a little dog who claimed that his pooch was especially adept at locating “illegals” among the bushes and had led authorities to the capture of several dozen.

Tourists returning to California from Los Algodones, B.C, Mexico with shopping bags. (Jason Rothe)

Tourists returning from Los Algodones, MX

Nonetheless, as soon as the border opens at 6AM, a whole different breed of migrants arrive – thousands of Americans and Canadians who cross the border daily seeking vastly cheaper dental care, medical treatment, prescription drugs, fish tacos and plastic kitsch.  They come with swollen faces, in wheelchairs, many of them elderly and on limited retirement incomes.  But unlike their Mexican counterparts who by this time are hiding under a mesquite bush somewhere in the desert, locked in the back of a pickup truck or stranded at a depository back in Mexico, they don’t have to swim the canal or dodge helicopters to get to their destination.  Crossing the border is as easy as walking through a white gate, no questions asked.

Read the original story in the Star here.

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More photos in the gallery below:

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