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Authorities Cracking Down On Human Smuggling Recruiting Efforts On Social Media Platforms

August 25, 2023

By Daniel Stefanski |

Federal prosecutors are cracking down on human smuggling attempts through social media platforms.

On Tuesday, the United States Attorney’s Office unsealed 13 indictments for 22 individuals. Those indictments charged these people with Conspiracy to Transport Illegal Aliens for Profit.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Arizona, “each indictment charges a human smuggling coordinator who utilized social media, including Snapchat, to recruit individuals within Arizona to transport undocumented noncitizens for money. After recruiting the drivers on social media, the coordinators often switched to a messenger application such as WhatsApp to coordinate the logistics. Many of the indicted coordinators were identified through law enforcement contacts, data from cellular phones, and their social media accounts.”

These indictments confirm a concerning epidemic of alleged crimes surrounding the southern border. For years, local law enforcement has warned about the existence of human smuggling efforts taking place over social media.

In May 2022, former Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich and Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels penned an op-ed for Fox News, detailing these crimes and outlining how the actions affected border communities. They wrote, “Teens are being recruited because of their accessibility to social media platforms, impressionability, and youthful greed. Since October 2021, local law enforcement officials have only one recorded instance of a face-to-face recruitment between a teenager and a smuggler or cartel; the vast majority of encounters occur outside the watchful eyes of parents or guardians over social media.”

The two officials shared a heartbreaking story of how one of these episodes tragically changed the lives of one southern Arizona family forever, adding, “This crisis started to place local law enforcement officials and residents of Cochise County on high alert in October 2021 when law enforcement officials attempted a traffic stop on a 16-year-old from Mesa, who was smuggling migrants in Cochise County in southern Arizona. The teenager suddenly hit the gas, driving over 100 miles per hour through small towns and quiet intersections on a mad dash to avoid apprehension. He eventually ran a red light, smashing into another vehicle and killing Wanda Sitoski, a local grandmother on her way to meet her son for her 65th birthday dinner.”

Brnovich and Dannels called out to social media companies, the traditional media, and government officials “to highlight the escalating crisis and seek assistance.” They also warned American parents that “cartels can reach their children hundreds or thousands of miles away” because of the existence and usage of social media platforms.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona stated that “a conviction for Conspiring to Transport Illegal Aliens for Profit carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000, and up to three years of supervised release.”

The Homeland Security Investigations – Casa Grande and Customs and Border Protection’s U.S. Border Patrol – Tucson Sector investigated, leading to the 13 indictments. Assistant United States Attorneys Ross Arellano Edwards, John Ballos, Timothy Courchaine, Brett Day, Matthew Doyle, Lisa Jennis, Christine Keller, Marcus Shand, LeighAnn Thomas, and Stuart Zander, District of Arizona, Phoenix, are spearheading the prosecutions.

Daniel Stefanski is a reporter for AZ Free News. You can send him news tips using this link.

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