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Eagle Pass, Texas – Investigators say smugglers are targeting teenagers on apps like Tik Tok and Instagram. They offer them money to fetch migrants from Mexico. Migrants will cross the Rio Grande from Mexico via private property to get onto national highways. This is where teenage drivers will pick up migrants to help them get to bigger cities like San Antonio, Austin or Houston.
Christopher Olivarez is a Public Information Officer for the Texas Department of Public Safety. State troopers have increased their presence to help with border security since Operation Lone Star went into effect more than a year ago.
“Smuggling organizations are starting to use and recruit minors through social media platforms. Tik Tok, Facebook, Twitter, even using WhatsApp for these encrypted messages,” Oliveras said. “There’s always been a problem with human trafficking. But what we’re seeing right now lately, what we haven’t seen in previous years, is the use of minors. So , smuggling organizations are beginning to use and recruit minors through social media platforms.”
Oliveras said the criminals are strategic.
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“They don’t come out saying we need drivers for human trafficking or drivers for drug trafficking. I mean, they usually say we need drivers and necessary drivers, and they’ll show videos of stacks of money,” Oliveras mentioned.
Texas State Troopers monitor cameras and drones for migrants or smugglers on private ranches in Southwest Texas. This week, soldiers arrested a 13-year-old who they believe was helping to smuggle migrants. Oliveras said the people the soldiers meet are not just regular asylum seekers.
“They are illegal immigrants who come through these ranches, private ranches without the consent of the owner. We encountered members of criminal gangs and suspected members of the MS13 cartel,” Oliveras said.
The Department of Homeland Security arrested about 1,700 smugglers in 2020 and more than 2,300 in 2021. Police believe it could be worse this year.
“To the right here we see a lot of human trafficking,” Kinney County Sheriff Brad Coe said.
Kinney County comprises 1,400 square miles, but only 16 miles borders Mexico. Coe said they don’t operate like a typical border community, but the influx of migrants is starting to impact the town of around 2,000 people.
Coe said in April 2021 they caught 15 smugglers. This month of April? More than double.
“With the narcotics they tried to smuggle it, and it gets caught. They lost it. smuggle the most,” Coe said.
Coe said that depending on the current temperature of pursuits, smuggling organizations will change who they use for smuggling drivers.
“If they’re 17 and we don’t have one, we can’t find a place to put them. We’ll book them and PR will tie them up, that way if they’re caught doing the same thing in a week or two, there are tapes that they continually make, which adds to the accusation which adds to the conviction,” Coe said.
When Texas State Patrol encounters migrants, they can arrest them for trespassing on private property if they find them on one of these ranches. Border Patrol takes the migrants to a processing facility that sends them back to Mexico and from there many of them turn around and try to make the trip back through Texas, which is very frustrating for the forces of the order here.
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The Texas Department of Public Safety says it’s important to warn children about these social media systems and educate them about the consequences of human trafficking. Since Operation Lone Star, they have made over 14,000 arrests, including over 12,000 for felony.