Report: Social media apps and influencers are helping migrants to illegally sneak across the U.S. / Mexico border.

UNITED STATES – The southern border has been overflowing with thousands of West African migrants thanks to social media apps spreading the news about a lesser-known, lower-stakes path through Nicaragua.

The new path to illegally entering the United States has been shared across several apps including WhatsApp, TikTok and Instagram.

According to reports, Mauritanians are using these channels to guide fellow migrants along the route, which makes stops in Turkey, Colombia, El Salvador and Nicaragua where they are then tossed onto a bus by smugglers who will then take them across the U.S.-Mexican border.

Nicaragua has relaxed its entry requirements, allowing Mauritanians and other foreign nationals to purchase a low-cost visa without proof of onward travel.

Travel agencies and paid influencers are promoting the illegal border crossing as a “trip” and even selling packages of flights that leave from Mauritania with a final stop in Nicaragua. 

One TikTok post said, “The American dream is still available … Don’t put off tomorrow what you can do today."

A man working for a travel agency said in another video, “We wish you success. Nicaragua loves you very much."

The influx of Mauritanians illegally crossing the border took U.S. officials by surprise. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) data indicates that from March to June 2023, more than 8,500 Mauritanians arrived illegally in this country, up from just 1,000 in the four months prior.

This influx happened at a time when groups of 2,000 to 3,000 a week were allowed to illegally enter the United States at El Paso, Texas, despite the Biden administration has claimed that the border is under control.

Prior to the arrival of these newly illegal migrants, there were about 8,000 foreign-born Mauritanians already living in the United States, about half of whom are currently living in Ohio.

Oumar Ball, who arrived in Ohio from Mauritania back in 1997, recently opened his home to dozens of other new migrants that took the new path to illegally enter the country. “Four months ago," he said, "it just went crazy … My phone hasn’t stopped ringing."

According to the New York Post, the massive influx of Mauritanians who arrived in the U.S. back in the 1990s came as refugees after the Arab-led military government began expelling black citizens.

This, however, is not the case with the latest surge of migrants who have illegally entered the country. They are not escaping any natural disaster, coup or sudden economic collapse, which suggests that the power of social media may actually be reshaping migration patterns.

One video from a migrant encourages others to follow the same path, saying, “Arrive in the USA via Nicaragua."

Prior to discovering the new route through Nicaragua, Mauritanians applying for asylum in the U.S. would fly to Brazil and risk trekking through the dense jungle of the Darien Gap.

This new route also allows the migrants to avoid the often-deadly boat voyages from Europe, one of which killed at least six of the 50 migrants that were crossing the English Channel during a recent incident.

The new path is not without its own challenges. Aissata Sall, a 23-year-old nurse who made her way to Cincinnati after discovering the Nicaragua route on WhatsApp, said that she was robbed of her remaining money on a bus in Mexico by men who were dressed as police officers. 

“On WhatsApp, they say, ‘Oh, it’s not very difficult,'" she said. "But, it’s not true. We confront so much pain along the way."

Still, many migrants claim that the horrendous trip is worth it to escape the reported state of violence directed against black Mauritanians. Bakary Tandia, a Mauritanian activist living in the state of New York, said:

“No matter what is your burning desire to come, if there is no route, you will not even think about it. The reality is, people are seeing a window of opportunity, that’s why they are rushing."

The route through Nicaragua can cost $8,000 to $10,000, which some families manage by selling land or livestock.
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