Human smugglers are increasingly taking advantage of great cell phone service along the U.S. southern border to remotely smuggle immigrants into the country via burner phones.
Rather than physically accompany someone attempting to illegally enter the U.S., many smugglers are using burner phones to remotely guide their clients on the dangerous journey across the border, reports Motherboard in an investigative story that took three months to produce. Once the journey is complete, both the smuggler and illegal immigrant can just ditch the phones, reducing the risk of getting caught.
“You are going to be on the phone at every moment, because I’m going to give you instructions,” Motherboard recounts one of the guides telling a 30-year-old man as he prepares to jump the border wall. Once he makes the 15 foot jump down from the wall, the guide calls and instructs him to run.
Traditionally, the guides would physically accompany would-be crossers to a pre-determined spot just across the border and hand them off to another guide. Now they can simply make a phone call, which makes their operations more efficient and makes it much harder for authorities to locate the smugglers.
Smugglers can purchase the cheap phones for between $10 and $20 without a contract or identifying information and toss them when they’re done. Although the terrain along the border is unforgiving, cell service is pretty good.
“Many, many, many migrants carry with them cell phones,” Ricardo Pineda Albarrán, the Mexican consul in Tucson, told Motherboard.
This new tactic likely makes the illegal immigrant journey safer — they can often call 911 in Mexico or the U.S. if in trouble — but also protects and likely adds to the profit margins of the human smugglers who often use the immigrants to smuggle drugs into the country.
While TV reporters were filming a story along the border with Mexico in Arizona, they inadvertently captured footage of two young men shimmying down the border fence on the Arizona side with huge backpacks. One of them was apparently taking instructions on a cell phone, but the pair climbed back over the fence without dropping off their product once they realized they were on camera.
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