Social media emerges as recruiting ground for human smugglers

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 officials and defense lawyers.

According to a recent Bloomberg report, these smuggling networks post veiled advertisements offering thousands of dollars for a few hours of driving work, using codewords like “pollitos” (Spanish for “baby chickens”) to signify the transport of migrants. They target vulnerable populations like broke teenagers, single moms, and the unemployed, whom the promise of quick cash may entice despite the risks.

Once contacted, recruiters shift conversations to encrypted apps and provide location drop points near the border where drivers can pick up migrants who have just crossed illegally. Drivers are instructed to avoid eye contact and drive until they can drop off the migrants at further destinations.

Law enforcement officials estimate that 90% of apprehended drivers were recruited on social media. The posts are rampant enough that agents and prosecutors have responded undercover to ads, building cases against ringleaders. Still, networks easily create new accounts when old ones are deleted.

Defense lawyers say most drivers understand they are transporting migrants, though some are misled into unknowingly becoming “blind mules.” The smuggling networks exert control by learning recruits’ personal details and making veiled threats. Drivers justify it as “easy money,” underestimating consequences.

The networks operating in Mexico and Latin America also use social media to promote smuggling services and coordinate trips with migrants. This allows them to reduce risks by providing location coordinates rather than guides.

Photo by Thought Catalog.

Radek Zielinski

Radek Zielinski is an experienced technology and financial journalist with a passion for cybersecurity and futurology.

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