Coyote business gets an upgrade: TikTok ads and cutting-edge technology for human smuggling

Illegal immigrants pay up to $12,500 to smugglers in order to cross the border.

For many, getting to the United States is not easy. Achieving the American dream requires both personal and monetary sacrifices. And there is a group of people who take advantage of the desires of illegal immigrants. They are the so-called coyotes, defined as "smugglers who facilitate the migration of people across the Mexico–United States and Bolivia–Chile borders."

Their rates are not cheap and have been increasing. According to Debate USA, the cost of this dangerous journey is rising each year. In just one decade, the price went from $5,000 to more than $12,500 per person. In addition, coyotes use new technology to reach a larger number of people desperate to get to the United States. Their latest strategy: TikTok.

As reported by Univision, there is an account on the Chinese social network where coyotes publish their rates and services. The account name is Alfredo Quintero, and it has thousands of followers. This account shows rates of up to $8,500 per person. The payment can be made in several installments, and the interested party must pay $2,500 in advance before the trip can take place.

In the profile, the coyotes assure that the immigrants will only have to walk 20 minutes and that they will be able to reach Texas without any problem. However, authorities deny this claim. According to the police, the journey could take up to three days, and there is no guarantee that the migrants will not be intercepted at the border.

2022, the second deadliest year for migrants

Immigrants put their lives on the line. In 2022 alone, a total of 1,338 migrants went missing in the Americas, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Of these, at least 668 disappeared or lost their lives at the U.S.-Mexico border.

This makes 2022 the second deadliest year for migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border, second only to 2021, when, according to the same institution, 1,249 people went missing in the Americas, 729 of them disappearing at the southern border.

Coyotes watch the border with drones

The lives lost do not matter to the coyotes. They only see the possibility of profiting from migrants aspiring to have a chance at the American dream, and they use whatever they have at their disposal to do so. One of their latest strategies was using drones to monitor Border Patrol.

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reported that coyotes are using this new technology to monitor the border in order to smuggle migrants more effectively. The law enforcement agency, which also monitors coyotes with drones, recently discovered a house where migrants were being hidden, as CBP recounted in a press release issued on March 1:

At approximately 11 p.m. on Jan. 30, two Border Patrol agents encountered approximately 30 migrants crossing illegally into the U.S. through the cargo truck lanes at the Otay Mesa Port of Entry. After they apprehended two migrants inside the port, additional agents pursued the remaining migrants as they fled north. Smugglers were observed picking up several of the migrants, and ultimately transporting them to a suspected stash house in National City. The following day, as agents conducted surveillance on the house, several suspected undocumented subjects were observed attempting to leave the location in a white sedan.

This discovery allowed CBP to discover that coyotes were using drones to monitor the border, just as CBP was using the same technology to surveil smugglers.

During the subsequent investigation, arresting agents discovered footage that smugglers recorded of the Border Patrol agents encountering the 30 migrants crossing illegally the previous night. The footage was captured by a drone used by the smuggling organization.

This practice concerns San Diego Sector Chief Patrol Agent Aaron M. Heitke. He said he is concerned that coyotes have found a new way to both exploit migrants and circumvent CBP:

Human smugglers using drones to surveil the Border Patrol is a growing trend that we’ve observed along the border. This technology provides transnational criminal organizations with new capability that they are eager to exploit.