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Border smugglers use social media to brag about trafficking migrants to US: ‘This is criminal,’ expert says

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Social media is proving to be an essential tool for human smugglers illegally transporting migrants across the southern border; and the cash-hungry traffickers aren’t afraid to boast about their illegal operations, often flaunting their cash on apps and bragging about the ease at which they can evade authorities.

In August, 22 people were indicted in Arizona for recruiting truck drivers using Snapchat posts of cash glamorizing illegal migrant smuggling. Many of the posts claimed drivers can make hefty sums of money without the risk of being arrested.

In September, an Arizona man was sentenced to 71 months in prison for transporting hundreds of illegal immigrants, and investigators found Snapchat posts in which he gloated about cramming people into overcrowded vehicles in unsafe conditions. He also used minors to facilitate certain smuggling operations.

ILLEGAL MIGRANT WHO WENT TIKTOK VIRAL URGING OTHERS TO SQUAT IN PEOPLE’S HOMES ARRESTED BY ICE

Snapchat post by a migrant smuggler showing a gun and cash

This Snapchat post by Nathanael Alley Rivera, 23, of Eloy, Arizona, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges for transporting hundreds of illegal immigrants for financial gain, shows two guns and wads of cash. (Homeland Security Investigations)

A New York Post investigation this month found that migrant smugglers are using Telegram to advertise their services to migrants in Turkey, and migrants from the country have been pouring into the U.S. in record numbers. Turks are being offered routes from Cancun to Tijuana in Mexico, which include flights and travel into the U.S. The smugglers reportedly tell migrants not to “delay your dreams” in advertisements for the travel routes.

According to a segment on “60 Minutes,” some Chinese migrants have purportedly been using videos on the China-owned social media platform TikTok to learn “step-by-step instructions” for how to find gaps in the border wall and hire smugglers. Venezuelan illegal migrant Leonel Moreno had built up a substantial following on TikTok, where he went viral for encouraging others to cross the U.S.-Mexican border and boasted about gaming the U.S. welfare system and advising people to squat in American homes.

Messenger applications, particularly WhatsApp, have also become invaluable for smugglers to communicate with migrants using the platform’s free phone and video calls as well as its free text and video messaging features. Its real-time geolocation technology also facilitates journey planning, and migrants only need a Wi-Fi connection to use the app.

Tom Homan, a former acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said social media companies need to do more to stop smugglers from using their apps for illegal migrant crossings; social media companies say they are doing all they can to prevent it and have strict rules in place.

“Some of these Mexican cartels, they’re like Fortune 500 companies. They are operating in about 40 countries around the world, especially the drug cartels, and they’re using the latest technology that’s available to them,” Homan told Fox News Digital. “They have access to drones, military-grade weapons, and they’re using social media to hire U.S. citizens and others to smuggle aliens for them.”

‘NO BACKGROUND CHECK’: REPORTS SAY SMUGGLERS USE SOCIAL MEDIA TO LURE TURKISH MIGRANTS TO EASY ENTRY INTO US

A Snapchat post by a migrant smuggler showing bundles of $100 bills

A Snapchat post by a migrant smuggler in Arizona shows bundles of $100 bills. (United States Attorney’s Office, District of Arizona)

Homan said the social media companies need to clamp down on smugglers, alleging that he previously had his social media accounts restricted for posting political content.

“How come these platforms aren’t monitoring this, which is criminal activity? This isn’t an opinion-based thing, this is criminal,” Homan said. “Smuggling illegal aliens into a country and transporting them within the country is a felony. Social media needs to step up and shut this stuff down.”

A conviction for conspiring to transport illegal aliens for profit carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000, according to the U.S. District Attorney’s Office in Arizona. In fiscal 2023, Customs and Border Patrol encountered 2,475,669 persons attempting entry along the Southwest border – an all-time record representing a 4.07% increase compared to the year before. However, it’s unclear how many migrants or their smugglers used social media to help them along the way.

“When someone goes down to pick up four or five people, do they know they are carrying fentanyl?” Homan said of the smugglers. “Do they know if they’re victims of trafficking? Are there women there that, as soon as they get to their final destination, will be forced into the sex trade, or if there are children, will they be forced into labor?”

Homan cited a report earlier this year by the HHS Office of Inspector General that found the agency had been unable to make contact with more than 85,000 unaccompanied child migrants who had been released to sponsors after being encountered at the southern border.

TURKISH MIGRANT CROSSING US BORDER SAYS AMERICANS ARE ‘RIGHT’ TO BE CONCERNED: ‘NO SECURITY’

“We’ve already found many of them in forced labor, in meatpacking plants. We found many of them doing forced labor on farms. We found women who had been in for sex slavery and in massage parlors and so forth. So, when social media is used to hire people to do this type of work, these people are unknowingly, possibly moving people carrying fentanyl that’s killed 148,000 people. They could be moving terrorists. They don’t know who they are, they’re just going down, picking people up, putting them in the car and taking them someplace.”

Migrants standing in line at the Border

Migrants are processed for entry by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. (Jon Michael Raasch/Fox News Digital)

Representatives for Snapchat, TikTok and Meta, which owns Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, told Fox News Digital that they have policies in place to crack down on such content and remove such content when it does appear on their platforms. 

A Snapchat spokesperson told Fox Digital the company has a “zero-tolerance policy for human smuggling” and takes an aggressive approach to combating it on its platform.

“We use proactive detection tools to find associated content and immediately remove it, take quick action in response to in-app reports, and work closely with law enforcement to support their investigations and strengthen our work to prevent abuse of our platform,” the Snapchat spokesperson said. “We encourage our community to report this type of content to law enforcement directly and through our reporting tools.”

Meanwhile, a study published by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), a United Nations group promoting “humane and orderly migration,” found that digital technology has made it easier for migrant smugglers to exchange money, goods and information. The study surveyed 531 migrants in transit at the southern border, 64% of whom had access to a smartphone and the internet during their journey.

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Migrants at the southern border

Migrants cross the Rio Grande at the U.S.-Mexico border in Piedras Negras, Mexico, on Oct. 6, 2023. (Alejandro Cegarra/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

“In the desert, I was not allowed to contact the smuggler to avoid communications tracking,” a migrant in transit in Mexico told IOM. “Once I got to the town, I shared my real-time [location] with the smugglers, and they guided me via messaging apps.” 

Homan is calling on Congress to hold hearings on the matter and wants social media representatives to testify about how they are handling the situation.

“We’re talking about the safety and security of this nation. What higher cause is there to take action?” Homan said.

“Call these people in and find out why the hell they are allowing this stuff to go on. They’ll shut someone out of social media for saying something politically, but they won’t shut them down on social media for engaging in criminal activity. It’s just ridiculous.”

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