Cartels are using stacks of cash, encrypted messages and the lure of making thousands of dollars in one day in posts on TikTok to recruit drivers from all over the country to travel to the US border and traffick illegal immigrants, law enforcement officials told The Post.
A driver from Indiana was recruited in this way and was promised $3,000 per immigrant he was able to get from a Texas border town to San Antonio, said Texas Department of Public Safety Spokesman Lt. Chris Olivarez.
“They don’t just come out and say we need a driver to smuggle people,” Texas Department of Public Safety Spokesman Lt. Chris Olivarez told The Post. “They’ll have a little catchy phrase, like ‘driver wanted: direct message me.’
And then, they’ll show images of stacks of money, and then they show some pictures with people being smuggled inside. They won’t come out and say we need a driver for smuggling, but just based off the images, we know that it’s associated with criminal activity.”
Olivarez has personally seen a TikTok video that promised a $7,000 payday to any driver who was willing to make one drive from the state’s Rio Grande Valley to Houston.
“When you see those stacks of money, it’s very enticing, especially when you’re going to get paid $2,000-3,000 a person.”
Drivers from across the country and from large Texas cities, like Dallas and Houston, travel to small border towns like Del Rio and Eagle Pass to smuggle immigrants north. Troopers busted a woman from a Fort Worth suburb smuggling immigrants with her 1-year-old baby along for the ride.
“Do I get my baby out,” the woman asked as she was getting arrested, according to a video shared by DPS.
She was charged with smuggling, as well as endangering a child, said DPS.
To navigate unfamiliar roads, cartels employ an app that is untraceable for law enforcement.
“They use WhatsApp to send GPS coordinates because it’s encrypted,” said Olivarez. “You’re going to go to this area and pick up these people here and you’re going to transport them to– the majority are going to San Antonio. That’s the drop off spot. [From} San Antonio, they get smuggled further out– it’s always been the drop off spot.”
The recruitment of unknown drivers comes with some risk. Young and inexperienced drivers often panic when they come across law enforcement. The Indiana man led authorities on a high-speed chase before crashing and losing all the immigrants his car. He ended up in jail and with no money.
Any compromised driver is easily replaceable, as the internet has opened up an untapped recruitment source.
“The fact that they’re using social media as a recruiting tool, that’s why we’re seeing so many human smuggling cases,” said Olivarez. “It’s increased drastically just because the fact that now, they’re able to recruit through social media.”