It’s hard to imagine the same barbaric cartel activity that has ravaged Mexico spreading across the border we share, but make no mistake—cartel activity is no longer confined to Mexico. It is present in all of our communities.
Drug cartels are ruthless, strategic, highly organized money-making entities that continue to evolve in strength and sophistication. They have taken advantage of our weak border to extend their operations into U.S. communities. Drug trafficking, combined with human smuggling, has become a billion-dollar business for them, and they run that business like a Fortune 500 company.
The use of social media platforms has taken a dark and sinister turn in recent years, with traffickers using social media platforms such as Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and more to recruit for their operations. “Social media allows traffickers to recruit from anywhere. Including in our backyard here in El Paso,” said Taekuk Cho, a Homeland Security Investigations acting special agent in charge. “It’s inexpensive, offers anonymity and has an endless supply of victims and buyers.”
Unfortunately, social media platforms provide an accessible marketplace of young Americans to be preyed upon by cartel members. “Social media platforms remain to be a large recruiting tool for smuggling specifically targeting juveniles,” said Texas DPS Lt. Chris Olivarez.
Former U.S. Marshal Robert Almonte added, “We are seeing an increase in teenagers from the United States being recruited by the Mexican cartel to transport migrants into the United States. Cartels are using social media to recruit these young teenagers, and in some cases, authorities have found these smugglers from the United States as young as 13 and 14 years old.”
With demand for human smugglers rising, cartels are hiring minors to do this job because they are “aware of the lenient consequences involving juveniles,” said Lt. Olivarez. They are falsely told by recruiters that they won’t face legal consequences if apprehended because they are minors. Furthermore, recruits fall victim to the promise of quick cash, being paid $2,000-$3,000 per trafficking victim.
Just last week, a 15-year-old led police on a high-speed chase in Mission, Texas, that ended with seven migrants bailing out of the vehicle on a dirt road. The driver was charged with smuggling and evading and booked into juvenile detention.
Earlier this month, a 12-year-old and 15-year-old transporting illegal immigrants near San Antonio, Texas, crashed their vehicle while trying to outrun cops in high-speed chase.
Last August, a 15-year-old girl ferrying several migrants in El Paso led police on a high-speed chase which ended in a multi-vehicle wreck. A similar instance the following month ended in tragedy, when a 16-year-old was smuggling migrants in Mesa, Arizona, and driving over 100 miles per hour when he ran a red light while trying to avoid apprehension and killed a local grandmother who was on her way to meet her son for her 65th birthday dinner.
Unfortunately, horrific stories of teenagers doing the dirty work of drug cartels after falling prey to deceptive promises of easy money have become ordinary occurrences.
“The cartels are sophisticated now in realizing that they don’t necessarily need to have people standing on street corners pushing their drugs,” said former FBI agent Stuart Kaplan. “They can hide behind the social media platforms in a very secure and discreet way and push their drugs out to our younger generation, and almost do it with the immunity of no enforcement whatsoever.”
The federal government has long abdicated its duty to secure the border and protect Americans from the flow of humans being trafficked, opioids, and poisonous illegal narcotics driven by cartels and organized crime. We can’t count on the Mexican government either, whose response to heightened cartel activity was to dissolve a special unit trained by U.S. authorities to fight drug cartels.
Criminals have seized these golden opportunities, knowing there is nothing to stop them from recruiting 12-year-old foot soldiers. Spokespersons for companies like Meta continue to spout platitudes: They claim they are working on this and that new technologies can flag and remove posts from criminals advertising lucrative smuggling gigs.
So, let’s not mince words—social media companies need to be held accountable for the exploitation of children by providing a marketplace for criminal cartels. On a similar note, the U.S. Supreme Court recently held oral arguments in two cases about holding social media companies accountable for allowing terrorist organization to use their platforms.
Everyone should heed this warning. Even if you don’t have or know a teenager being recruited by Mexican drug cartels, you can rest assured they are finding new and deceptive ways to bring destruction to your communities and neighborhoods.