EXCLUSIVE: TikTok allows Mexican cartels to post 'help wanted' ads for human smugglers

“99.9% of smugglers they encounter and arrest are American citizens.”


This week, I had the opportunity to ride along with the Kinney County Sheriff’s Department. Kinney County, Texas is a hotspot for human smuggling, facilitated by the cartels. High-speed chases, rollovers, and witnessing graphic deaths are a regular occurrence for deputies in Kinney County. While riding with Deputy Molinar, a veteran deputy from Kinney County, he informed me how cartels are advertising smuggling jobs to Americans.

He showed me one example of an ad on TikTok, and within minutes of looking for myself, I found more than a dozen ads that were blatantly advertising smuggling jobs for the cartel. As I was engaging with these ads, I realized one had an information label from TikTok that read: “Participating in this activity could result in you or others getting hurt.”

Translation: “I need drivers based in Texas. Only serious enquires. Good pay: $10-20K USD in 3 hours. Houston, TX, Dallas, TX, San Marcos, TX, San Marcos, San Antonio, Austin, TX, Waco, TX, Temple, TX. Follow me and DM me if interested and if you have car or truck. We will pay more if you have a trailer.”

As you’ll see, the video with this label is a very obvious example of human smuggling and even shows the process of smuggling migrants past border patrol, chats between the smuggler and the organizer, and then the reward that comes after.

WhatsApp chat translation:

Organizer: "Let me know. When do y’all arrive?"

Smuggler: "40"

Organizer: "Is there traffic?"

Smuggler: "A little bit. No more. 23 min"

This individual account, amongst countless others, are allowed to post recruitment videos with the intent to employ American citizens to engage in human smuggling on behalf of cartels. Instead of removing these illegal advertisements, TikTok allows cartel recruiters to stay on the platform and organize human smuggling operations.

TikTok is well known for being the platform with some of the strictest censorship, but despite that, they seem to be more concerned about Americans voicing their political opinions than organized cartels recruiting Americans to commit multiple felonies via human smuggling.

As this article is published, the account that I’ve used as an example is still active and recruiting American citizens to smuggle illegal immigrants. Sheriff Brad Coe of Kinney County states that “99.9% of smugglers they encounter and arrest are American citizens.”

"We’re seeing all walks of life. We’ve had those that are hurting for money, they’re in a bind financially and are looking to make an easy buck. We’ve picked up a couple attorneys that have been smuggling.

"Recently, we caught two girls from active duty, or at this point in time, I think they were National Guard or active duty smuggling. So we’ve seen it all. I ran a check on one kid; he was out of the DFW area. Checked to see where he lived, did a little background looking. And of course he’s living at home, his folks are living in like a $600,000 house. So I don’t think he was here for the money; I think he was here for the thrill. And then there are those who want to make a name for themselves, or try to join a gang or do whatever to get into part on that clique to make the easy money. It’s just not worth it.”

Five additional human smuggling ad examples:

Kinney County used to have an average of one pursuit a year, with officers averaging about two or three pursuits over their entire career. Fast forward to now, and some Kinney County sheriff's deputies find themselves in two or three pursuits a night.

In February of 2023, there was a high-speed pursuit every day of the month, with some days having multiple. These are not even including the pursuits Kinney County sheriff’s deputies assist the Texas Department of Public Safety with. In 2022, Kinney County Sheriff’s Department set a record of close to 200 pursuits in one year.

“That’s one of the most dangerous things a law enforcement officer can get into. When it first started, I could hear the excitement in their voice. I’m in pursuit, we’re doing 104mph blah blah blah. Now? Ahhh, I’m in pursuit, we’re doing speeds of 120-125mph. And they’re on back roads, that’s the part that scares me because you get too used to it, you get too comfortable with it, myself included, that’s when bad things happen.”

Kinney County Sheriff’s Department has prosecuted nearly 6,000 people for criminal trespass and 1,800 people for human smuggling. While riding along with deputies, four smuggling arrests were made in one night. A detail that I found odd was two of the human smugglers were confirmed members of the Aryan Brotherhood out of Oklahoma.

TikTok allowing cartel recruiters to run rampant on their platform is extremely dangerous and irresponsible. The platform isn’t only endangering Kinney County deputies, but it’s dangerous for Americans, illegal immigrants and smugglers as well. Most high-speed chases end in a very serious accident, speeds can reach all the way up to 170mph, depending on the case.

Below you will see two examples of what deputies go through on an average day in Kinney County.

Crashes leading to death and serious injury happen on a regular basis. Here are a few of the least graphic examples available, most scenes that Kinney sheriff’s department deputies deal with are far too graphic for the average viewer.

Deputy Molinar has become so proficient at his job and identifying the patterns the smugglers use that he can usually identify if a vehicle is involved in human smuggling before initiating a traffic stop. Some common identifiers include out of state drivers, cloned plates, stolen and rental cars, and sagged suspension. Often times the cartel will provide the vehicle for the smuggler, so temporary plates can be a big giveaway as well.

During both stops during the first night, Deputy Molinar already knew that the vehicles in question were involved in human smuggling before approaching the vehicle. It’s by far some of the most impressive police work I’ve personally seen. At one point, Deputy Molinar was so confident as he was detaining the passenger of a suspected vehicle that he jokingly offered to put money on it with the smuggler that he was about to find an illegal immigrant in the back. Deputy Molinar joked with me about how nearly everyone involved in human smuggling has the same excuse— “I didn’t know they were in there!”

During the smuggling process, the member of the cartel in charge of who oversees that the operation goes smoothly watches the live location of the smuggler and regularly checks in with them via WhatsApp. Often times, they will drop one location pin at a time, in an attempt to circumvent the police receiving information from smugglers that are caught and arrested.

Kinney County is also assisted by Galveston PD, DPS, and Florida State troopers on assignment due to Operation Lonestar being in effect. There is a disproportionate funding gap in Kinney County. With the prosecution receiving only $3M compared to the defense receiving $27M. As a small town, it is a constant uphill battle to receive the funding necessary to combat the mass surge of cartel-sponsored human smuggling operations. Nearly every police car in Kinney County has wear and tear, and some sort of body damage from pit maneuvering, human smugglers and consistently getting in high-speed pursuits.

TikTok is not the only platform that is guilty of allowing cartels to advertise on their app. Others include Instagram, Craigslist, Facebook, and Snapchat. The difference between TikTok and these other platforms is that TikTok both acknowledges smuggling is happening and continues to allow the behavior. Other platforms at least make an effort to combat and remove the content.

TikTok has already been surrounded by controversy due to the mass data harvesting that takes place within the app and the manipulative algorithms promoting inappropriate content to children. Now they’ve once again managed to land themselves in the middle of the spotlight, but this time, it’s for human smuggling.

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