As migrant flows to the U.S. border reach historic highs, human smugglers are increasingly turning to social media platforms like Snapchat And Facebook to recruit American drivers, according to law enforcement and defense attorneys.
According to a recent Bloomberg report, these smuggling networks publish veiled advertisements offering thousands of dollars for a few hours of work in cars, using code words like “pollitos” (Spanish for “baby chickens”) to refer to the transport of migrants. They target vulnerable populations like broke teenagers, single mothers and the unemployed, whom the promise of quick access to money can attract despite the risks.
Once contacted, recruiters transfer conversations to encrypted apps and offer drop-off points near the border where drivers can pick up migrants who have just crossed illegally. Drivers are asked to avoid eye contact and drive until they can drop migrants off at other destinations.
Law enforcement estimates that 90% of drivers apprehended were recruited on social networks. The posts are widespread enough that agents and prosecutors respond undercover to the ads, building cases against the ringleaders. Yet networks easily create new accounts when old ones are deleted.
Defense lawyers say most drivers understand they are transporting migrants, although some are misled and unknowingly become “blind mules.” Smuggling networks exercise control by learning recruits’ personal information and making veiled threats. Drivers justify it by calling it “easy money”, underestimating the consequences.
Networks operating in Mexico and Latin America also use social media to promote smuggling services and coordinate migrant travel. This allows them to reduce risk by providing location coordinates rather than guides.
photo by Catalog of thoughts.