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How the Human Smuggling Industry Spreads Misinformation to U.S.-Bound Migrants

This summary about human smuggling featured in Documented’s Early Arrival newsletter. You can subscribe to receive it in your inbox three times per week here.

A new report from the Tech Transparency Project found an abundance of misleading posts on Whatsapp and Facebook from the human smuggling industry about immigration law, conditions of travel to the U.S. and opportunities for migrants to get into the country. 

Two hundred migrants were interviewed for the report. Half of them were at the beginning of their journey to the U.S., and the other half were in shelters just south of the border the U.S. shares with Mexico. 

Dozens of false and misleading posts found on Facebook and WhatsApp: The fabricated posts concerned changes to immigration policy, special rules for parents and pregnant women, or favorable conditions along migration routes for smuggling trips.

“I discovered this WhatsApp group while in Tapachula,” one migrant said. “One of the administrators registered me and on that platform they share all kinds of information about both the caravan and the people who provide their services to cross the border.”

Migrants indicated the top ways they obtained information were through word of mouth, Facebook, radio, Whatsapp, and newspapers. 

The report notes, with several screenshots from Facebook and Whatsapp groups, that smuggling ads are intertwined with postings about items like furniture and motorcycles for sale. 

Migrants said “Facebook and WhatsApp had connected them with fraudsters who stole their money, abandoned them in unsafe conditions, or gave them bad information,” the study notes. 

Social media perceived as full of personal migration stories: Many migrants surveyed said they believed the information on Facebook reflects the experiences of those who have actually traveled to the U.S. Meanwhile, Whatsapp is popular because migrants think they can use it to directly communicate with people who have personal knowledge about migrating into the U.S. 

“I believe in what people say and whoever leads us. I have nothing else to believe in,” a migrant said, highlighting how difficult it is to differentiate fact from misinformation. 

The dissemination of misinformation is a challenge for government authorities, which in May launched a digital ad campaign to warn migrants about smugglers’ lies. The following month, the Biden administration also launched an operation, which includes a multi-million dollar investment, to disrupt human smuggling networks. 

TTP’s report is part of a series that explores how digital information affects migrants, and how misinformation affects the attitudes of receiving communities toward migrants in Mexico and the U.S. Read the full report here.

STORIES WE ARE FOLLOWING 

New York

Monkeypox declared public health emergency in NYC, estimated 150,000 may be at risk for exposure: The mayor and health commissioner said the declaration will let them provide measures to slow the spread, as they work to obtain more vaccine doses. — Read the full statement

Dozens of New York elected officials opposing ICE transfers: The officials asked ICE to quickly tell attorneys and advocates where people are being transferred to, and to detail further plans to transfer immigrants detained in New York. — Read the full letter here

Around the U.S. 

Arizona GOP Senate candidate pushes immigration conspiracy theory: Blake Masters claimed Democrats encourage immigration to dilute the political power of native-born voters — a potentially problematic take in a state where a third of voters are Hispanic. — The New York Times

Video: Texas conservatives fear “takeover” by immigrants: A poll finds 7 in 10 Republicans believe Democrats plan to dilute votes by encouraging immigration as conservatives push the conspiracy theory. — VICE News

Gig workers increasingly carjacked, killed — many of them immigrants: Assailants often used the company apps to lure drivers. Over the last five years, 28 gig workers have been killed, and dozens more severely injured. — The Markup 

ICE found 60 adults, 13 children in smuggler-operated houses in Washington D.C.:  Typically such houses are found closer to the border, as migrants later find their way to live with their families in the U.S. — NBC News

Washington D.C.

Biden admin. to close border wall gaps in Arizona: The Yuma Morelos Dam Project will close four gaps in an “incomplete border barrier project” to protect migrants from drowning and sustaining injuries. — CNN 

Biden admin. moves to reduce work permit wait times for Ukrainians, other immigrants:

The federal government has issued a notice that will potentially cut Ukrainians’ wait times for work permits by months. — The Philadelphia Inquirer

D.C. mayor seeks federal help as migrants are bused in: Mayor Muriel Bowser wrote to the White House, saying the city needs help processing and housing migrants until they reach their final destinations. — Texas Tribune

Analysis: The real immigration crisis is a shortage in immigrant workers: While border crossings are a perennial controversy, the drop in overall immigration has barely registered in Congress — a challenge for companies struggling to find workers. — The Economist (Paywall)

A Cuban immigrant who helped immigrants bused to D.C. urges more action: Ignacio Sosa urges readers to treat the busing of migrants to D.C. as a humanitarian crisis, and asks the federal government to help private charities. — The Washington Post (Opinion)

SEE MORE STORIES
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