Turkish smugglers appear to be using social media platforms to help migrants from across the globe enter the U.S. illegally through the southern border, according to a Daily Caller News Foundation review of Telegram and TikTok posts.
The advertisements offer arrangements for travel, visas and transportation directly to the U.S.-Mexico border for migrants in Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Border Patrol encounters of migrants crossing the southern border illegally have hit numerous records in recent years, with more than 2.2 million encounters in fiscal year 2022 and more than 2 million in fiscal year 2023, according to federal data. (RELATED: Feds Raise Concerns Over New Pathway Fueling Migrant Crisis)
One smuggling advertisement shared on Telegram boasts a “GUARANTEED PASS” for $10,000, which includes a flight from Istanbul to Cancun, a Mexican visa, “CANCUN ENTRANCE,” a hotel room, a taxi, and “DELIVERY TO TIJUANA BORDER.”
“WE HAVE A ROAD FOR CITIZENS OF EVERY COUNTRY WHO CANNOT GET A MEXICO VISA AND FLY TO NICARAGUA,” the post reads.
The two Telegram channels, which have thousands of members, include videos and messages where migrants are thanking specific people. They also feature photos of passports stamped by Mexican authorities.
“This is the border. Thanks to you, we have arrived in the U.S.,” one man said in a TikTok post taken next to the border wall. The video shows migrants thanking “Volkan,” which is a Turkish name.
Migrants share their success stories by sharing videos posted to TikTok, boasting of the smugglers:
“This is the border. Thanks to you, we have arrived in the U.S.”
“When it looks like no one can let you through the doors … you always leave the door open for everybody.” pic.twitter.com/ew2TKJwmTB
— Jennie Taer 🇮🇱🇺🇸 (@JennieSTaer) January 9, 2024
@meksikadancikis #fly #flypシ #viral #tiktok #meksika #cancun #tijuana #abd #keşfet ♬ orijinal ses – https://t.me/meksikadancikis
In a separate video, another man mentions “Volkan,” calling him “king man.”
Another video shows a man appearing to walk across the border, saying that “Volkan” can always get them into the U.S.
“When it looks like no one can let you through the doors … you always leave the door open for everybody,” he said.
Both the names “Volkan” and “Burak,” another Turkish name, appear in Telegram messages. In a private Telegram conversation between the DCNF and “Burak,” the alleged smuggler said he helps people from across the globe enter the U.S. by either obtaining Mexican visas or facilitating travel through Nicaragua or El Salvador.
“Burak” also said the DCNF’s questions sounded like those of a “police officer.” Burak communicated in Turkish, which the DCNF had translated.
The number of migrants arriving from “Special Interest” countries, which are labeled as such due to potential national security risks, increased by nearly 600% to 25,627 in fiscal year 2022 compared to the previous year, according to internal Customs and Border Protection (CBP) data previously obtained by the DCNF.
Migrants who are placed in this category can be seen as “possibly have a nexus to terrorism,” according to 2019 DHS fact sheet.
“The smugglers make so much more money off of the Special Interest Aliens,” a Border Patrol official, who requested anonymity, told the DCNF of the fees based on country of origin.
Border Patrol has recorded a sharp uptick in encounters of migrants from Turkey crossing the southern border illegally, according to federal data. Encounters of illegal migrants from Turkey jumped from roughly 1,300 in fiscal year 2021 to more than 15,400 in fiscal year 2023.
But when it comes to using encrypted apps like Telegram, federal investigators have a difficult time cracking down on the efforts, two U.S. intelligence officials told the DCNF on the condition of anonymity because they’re not authorized to speak publicly.
“Telegram will not assist U.S. law enforcement unless the case is regarding terrorism,” the intel officials said. “Smugglers are able to openly recruit to get new clientele.”
“Most immigrants are paying $10,000 to get smuggled to countries that border the United States knowing that once they arrive in the United States they can claim asylum and be released without consequence,” the official added.
TikTok didn’t respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.
“Since its creation, Telegram has actively moderated harmful content on our platform,” Telegram spokesperson Remi Vaughn said in a statement to the DCNF. “Moderators use a combination of proactive monitor of public parts of the platform and user reports in order to remove content that breaches our terms of service.”
In March, CBP sent a memo to agency officials detailing a smuggling route in which a group of Chinese migrants traveled to Istanbul, where they obtained Mexican visas, flew to Mexico City pretending to be couples and then split off to get to the border.
Groups are posing as travel agencies in the capital of Senegal to get migrants to the U.S.-Mexico border by obtaining a visa to travel through the European Union, a CBP spokesperson recently told the DCNF.
“They sell complete packages to connect them to a smuggling organization that will then facilitate their movement up to the border,” the spokesperson added.
The Turkish Embassy in Washington, D.C., didn’t respond to a request for comment.
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