HARLINGEN, Texas (ValleyCentral) — Recruiting teen drivers for human smuggling has become more common along the Texas border, especially in towns such as Eagle Pass, a state official told ValleyCentral on Tuesday.
And the cartels are using social media to recruit the young drivers, said Lt. Christopher Olivarez, who is part of Operation Lone Star with the Texas Department of Public Safety.
“It’s more profitable since there’s so many people coming across,” Olivarez told ValleyCentral. “It’s more profitable plus, you know, smuggling organizations are using social media to recruit drivers, you know, Tik Tok, and using WhatsApp and Snapchat. So, they use that to recruit drivers.
“It’s very enticing, especially for younger, younger adults, teenagers to, you know, get involved in smuggling,” Olivarez said.
A recent arrest of two teenagers in a failed human-smuggling attempt illustrates what Olivarez has seen in South Texas. Two teenagers — ages 16 and 15 — were arrested Nov. 22 on northbound U.S. 281 after leading Texas DPS troopers on a high-speed chase in Hidalgo County.
The two were local residents, Olivarez said.
The teenaged driver pulled over during the pursuit to let migrants out of the vehicle and then the teenagers remained in the vehicle and continued to evade law enforcement, according to DPS. Of all the migrants who fled from the vehicle, only one was apprehended and processed by Border Patrol, officials said.
However, the teens were captured.
The vehicle was apprehended after a five-minute pursuit when DPS deployed its tire deflation device. The teens were taken to a juvenile detention center in Edinburg and were charged with human smuggling and evading arrest, Olivarez said.
A leading reason that teens are being put at the forefront of human smuggling is that smuggling organizations know teens will not be prosecuted as severely as adults.
“So, a lot of times with juveniles, they may go through the juvenile system, and they get released, or they get released to a parent, and they’re doing it again the following day,” Olivarez said.