1706447340 In the Facebook profile of a migrant smuggler

In the Facebook profile of a migrant smuggler

Gus is one of those people who shares everything on his social networks. He published what he ate and who he was with. He sent messages of love to his little girl and scolded his comrades. He complained when there was a concert he wanted to go to but couldn't afford. He professed support for Santa Muerte. He posted memes, motivational phrases, and his professional achievements. I dreamed of having a lot of money.

“I am the indebted sheep of the family,” he wrote on his Facebook profile. “I know what it is to have and what not to have, so nothing impresses me,” he posted a day later, last September. “I go to Jale de Patero to hold a mass,” he said of his work at the end of August. He didn't like to hide: A patero is what migrant smugglers on the border between Mexico and Texas are called.

The networks were an escape valve. El Gus liked to pose in Border Patrol caps, upload stories at checkpoints in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, place a Border Patrol vehicle as a cover photo, or record videos of migrants wearing life jackets walking in a line through gaps in the middle of the night. “They peel me,” he said proudly and confidently, with reggaeton music playing in the background, in a reel that is still visible on his profile.

Recording of a video shared by “El Gus” on Facebook in which a group of migrants can be seen queuing at night.Recording of a video shared by “El Gus” on Facebook in which a group of migrants can be seen queuing at night.

Networks were also a working tool. “Departing today in the cabin at 3 and 5,” he posted on August 23 to announce that there were seats available on the trips he planned to make from the border to other cities in the United States. The pateros are the name given to the cabins in which bus drivers sleep, but sometimes they also put migrants in caravan boxes.

It didn't take long for him to get a customer. At twelve o'clock in the afternoon he received an inbox from a person who had people interested in the service. “How many?” asked El Gus. “Three,” they replied. The Patero told him there was no problem but to give him his phone number to complete the deal via WhatsApp.

Minutes later, the customer received the call. “I speak to you on behalf of Don Gus,” a man told him. It later turned out that it was actually Gus himself who called, but perhaps he wanted to protect himself or play an important role. They agreed on the phone. The prospect wanted to pay him $450 when they arrived in Laredo, Texas, and another $7,800 when they reached their final destination. Gus didn't know he was talking to an undercover agent.

The agreement called for the three undocumented migrants to be picked up in the parking lot of a seafood restaurant on one of Laredo's main streets. A Ford Raptor pickup would drive past them. At the last minute, the undercover agent canceled the deal. But they already had her in their sights. They knew that El Gus was called Luis Daniel Segura.

The Ford Raptor left the seafood restaurant and drove into an open field less than two kilometers away. Agents identified the driver as Bernardo Garza, who stopped to speak with two other men affiliated with the human trafficking network. From there, he walked to a parking lot with several trucks, parked next to a red tractor-trailer, opened the back door of the truck and let out three migrants, including a 15-year-old girl. The three were from Mexico and El Salvador and had agreed to pay thousands of dollars for the service.

Police intercepted and arrested Garza, who was unable to remove the weapon he was carrying in the Raptor. Less than a month later, they located Francisco Suárez, aka Pancho, who was working as a hawk – someone who makes sure no one follows the traffickers – and told the drivers where the safe houses where the traffickers were being held were. On September 16, Luis Daniel Segura, El Gus, was killed during an operation near the southern border of Texas. When they searched his phone, the cops got to the heart of the matter: They found his Facebook profile, conversations with Pancho and messages he sent to the undercover agent.

A post shared by “El Gus” on his Facebook page.A post shared by “El Gus” on his Facebook page.

Segura confessed that he was recruited by the Northeast Cartel, an offshoot of Los Zetas, to get into the business. In late October, the three were indicted by a grand jury on two counts of migrant smuggling and faced up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. One of the migrants was willing to testify against him. There were also dozens and dozens of social media posts that could serve as evidence.

Despite all the violations, the three decided last week to plead guilty to one of the charges. None of them are older than 30 years. Garza is 26; Segura, 25, and Pancho, 19. The District Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Texas hailed the guilty plea as a triumph, but also sharply criticized digital platforms that facilitate human trafficking. “Cartels are increasingly using social media as part of their illegal business model,” said prosecutor Alamdar Hamdani. “Applications like Facebook allow these organizations to expose human smuggling services to large audiences along the U.S. border,” he added.

Facebook did not respond to the prosecutor's comments in its press room. “To stop and prevent harm, we remove content that facilitates or coordinates the exploitation of people, including human trafficking,” says the company’s policy on the matter, last updated on January 12. Services like those of the Northeast Cartel are expressly prohibited.

Dismantling migrant smuggling organizations was a priority issue at last week's ministerial meeting of Mexican and U.S. authorities in Washington. Ken Salazar, the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, reported Monday that at least 10 criminal groups committed to the crime have been dismantled in recent months, condemning them for “taking a toll on the plight, the health and the lives of “Migrants benefit”.

“These criminal organizations operated in Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Chiapas, Chihuahua, Hidalgo, Veracruz and others,” Salazar said. He also said efforts to tighten immigration controls on northbound bus and train routes had enabled “the reduction of more than half of migration flows since their peak in December.” Mexican Foreign Minister Alicia Bárcena said security chief Rosa Icela Rodríguez and senior officials from the republic's attorney general's office will hold a meeting with their American counterparts this month to strengthen mechanisms against human trafficking networks.

A picture of Santa Muerte that “El Gus” shared on his Facebook profile.A picture of Santa Muerte that “El Gus” shared on his Facebook profile.

The issue is crossed by politics. Migration has become one of the most contentious issues in the United States elections and politicians from the most conservative sectors have not hesitated to turn the immigration crisis into a political weapon to put pressure on the Joe Biden administration and the immigration administration of the administration of Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador.

“The one thing we don’t do is shoot people crossing the border because the Biden administration would accuse us of murder,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said in a radio interview on Jan. 5. The comments led to strong criticism of Abbott, who has espoused a strong anti-immigrant discourse and has been embroiled in a legal battle with the federal government that has reached the Supreme Court. The Texas governor's measures to curb immigration range from knives and buoys designed to sink those trying to swim across the Rio Grande to installing razor wire and deploying armed guards along the border.

The paradox is that the adoption of tough measures and the collapse of legal migration routes mean good news for criminal organizations, which have more potential customers, are more desperate for unsafe routes and are willing to pay more and more money for their services. Around the same time that Abbott was placing the buoys of his floating wall, El Gus was uploading to his social networks photos next to the river in which he was “playing tag” or “having a few races” with immigration officials, happy because there was more would give work. He even posted photos of the buoys. From October 2022 to September 2023, the month his criminal cell was disbanded, there were more than 2.5 million migrant apprehensions at the border, another record year for irregular border crossings.

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