Social Issues

Study: Traffickers using tech to get migrants into US

By Lluis Lozano

Mexico City, Feb 19 (EFE).- Social media and instant messaging apps represent a new way for traffickers to promote and deliver their services to undocumented migrants seeking to enter the United States, according to a study from the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Based on a survey of 531 migrants in transit, “Social Media Facilitates Migrant Smuggling in Mexico, Central America, and Dominican Republic” was published Feb. 8 by the IOM Regional Office for Central America, North America, and the Caribbean, located in Costa Rica’s capital, San Jose.

“The migrant-trafficking networks constantly change their modus operandi and they use technology to carry out their activities,” study co-author Estela Aragon said in an interview with EFE.

“Coyotes,” as the traffickers are known, advertise on TikTok and rely on messaging apps to monitor clients on their journey, and the phenomenon was accentuated by the travel restrictions imposed because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“There is a very large risk of fraud,” Aragon said, as migrants often never meet the traffickers and all of the business is conducted online.

A coyote can cut contact with clients for his own security, leaving them to fend for themselves as they cross inhospitable and often dangerous terrain to enter the US without authorization, the Regional Data and Research Officer of IOM’s Western Hemisphere Program pointed out.

“In the context of Mexico the technologies are very much used to guide migrants through the desert,” Aragon said. “Many begin the route in Mexico City and the entire guidance tends to be via instant messaging.”

Migrants from Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Haiti, Guatemala, Venezuela, Guinea and Jordan participated in the study, Sixty-four percent said that they had access to a smart phone and the internet during their journeys.

People between the ages of 26 and 35 were the most likely to use smart phones and the internet, while migrants 46 years old and up reported using devices only rarely.

Northern Mexico is “a funnel” through which migrants traveling over land must pass to reach the US, scholar Maria-Eugenia Anguiano tells EFE.

In the border region, the migrants are at the mercy of criminal organizations that “rob, rape, kill and disappear them,” says Anguiano, a researcher at the Colegio de la Frontera Norte, an educational institution and think tank based in Tijuana.

The IOM report notes that traffickers’ growing reliance on information and communication technologies opens new possibilities for governments in the battle against smuggling.

“There are significant efforts by Mexican authorities to promote orderly migration through regular channels,” Aragon told EFE. “And there is a presence on social media to combat illicit trafficking and provide reliable information.”

The area is experiencing record migration, with 2.76 million unauthorized migrants detained by the US Border patrol during the 12 months ending Sept. 30, 2022. EFE llo/dr

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