The Biden administration and its immigration czar, Vice President Kamala Harris, have been catching most of the blame for the surge in illegal immigrants trying to cross the Southern Border. The number of migrants heading for the U.S. has exploded since President Joe Biden took office and started undoing the previous administration’s migration policies. But, according to a new report, the commander-in-chief is not solely to blame and now Facebook is being accused of adding fuel to the border crisis fire.
Tech Transparency Project (TTP) started noticing a trend on the social media site in April: They claim that human smugglers are openly using the platform to attract customers. According to its investigation, multiple Facebook pages and groups, with “tens of thousands of members” are advertising their services to those wishing to cross into the U.S. illegally. The report detailed:
“The human smugglers often show routes, modes of transit, prices, and even discount options to potential customers on Facebook. Many spread misinformation about migrants’ ability to enter the U.S., promising easy and fast asylum. This feeds the false hope on the part of migrants that they’ll be released by U.S. Border Patrol rather than sent back to Mexico.”
Cartels on Facebook
TTP said it found worrying evidence that some of the smugglers have links to Mexican drug cartels and that many of the Facebook pages didn’t even try to hide their activity. For example, the report pointed out a page called “El coyote lopez,” created on Dec. 28, 2020, and managed from Mexico. According to TTP: “it offers $8,000 for passage from Nicaragua to the U.S. The page has a WhatsApp button that allows users to connect directly to the human smugglers behind the operation.”
TTP pointed to one particular post, explaining:
“One El coyote lopez post tagged in the border city of McAllen, Texas, highlighted its success and offered a discount rate of $1,700 for single mothers and children willing to hand themselves over to a Border Patrol agent when they reach the U.S. The post indicates a more expensive rate of $7,000 to $8,500 for passage all the way to Houston, and uses flag emojis to indicate it takes migrants from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua.”
Another Facebook page named “Viaje para estados undios, cumple tu sueño” or “Travel to the United States, fulfill your dream” was created on Jan. 27, 2021, and offers customers safe passage from Reynosa, Mexico across the border to McAllen, Texas, TTP reported.
Yet, many of these pages still remain on the social platform, despite its policies. TTP points out that Facebook’s Community Standards ban “misinformation and unverifiable rumors that contribute to the risk of imminent violence or physical harm” and also ban content that “offers to provide or facilitate human smuggling.” In April, TTP identified 50 Facebook pages as well as multiple private groups that offered illegal border crossing services. Representative Kat Cammack (R-FL), a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, sent a letter to CEO Mark Zuckerberg, complaining about the ease of finding human smugglers on the site:
“Facebook has provided a means by which human smugglers and cartels are spreading false information and openly advertising illicit smuggling services that encourages foreign nationals to break the immigration laws of the United States.
“I take issue when Facebook and other social media platforms actively silence conservatives and “shadow ban” individuals with views that are not supported by employees of your company. However, Facebook’s role in the crisis at the border is urgent and must be addressed immediately.”
Facebook reached out to TPP for a list of the 50 websites it had found pertaining to smugglers and eventually dismantled some of them. However, 19 of those sites still remained a month later. And even more concerning, according to Cammack, is that visitors to those sites receive popup advertising as well as links to related pages, which are also human smuggling sites.
Dr. Nilda Garcia, a researcher specializing in cartel activity on social networks worked with TPP to identify some of the Facebook pages that may be linked to cartel accounts. The Facebook group called “Quiero cruzar la frontera” or “I want to cross the border” has 44,000 members. On May 23, 2021, a user posted a note encouraging people to private message him if they wanted to cross the border. Garcia told TPP that based on the rhetoric and types of weapons displayed by the user, “it appears that he is a lower ranking cartel member, such as a ‘halcon.’”
Other examples of potential smugglers include listing a crossing price with an extra fee of up to $700 per person. The additional money is to be used to pay right-of-way tax to the cartels when crossing their territory. Groups that do not pay the toll “run the risk of extortion, kidnapping, or death.”
According to The Daily Mail, at least 128 people have died trying to cross from Mexico into the U.S. so far this year. Dr. Corrine Stern has tracked this data since 2007 and said by this time last year, 45 people had perished.
Read more from Kelli Ballard.