A large number of West African migrants have been entering the United States through a previously lesser-known route that gained traction due to social media platforms.
Utilizing channels like WhatsApp and Instagram, Mauritanians are guiding fellow migrants along this path, which includes stops in Turkey, Colombia, El Salvador, and Managua, Nicaragua. This route then leads them to the U.S.-Mexican border with the assistance of smugglers.
The key factor in the journey of the migrants are Nicaragua’s relaxed entry requirements, allowing foreign nationals, including Mauritanians, to obtain a low-cost visa without needing proof of onward travel.
The surge of migrants caught officials by surprise, coinciding with the period when the U.S. legally admits groups of 2,000 to 3,000 individuals each week through El Paso, Texas.
Notably, according to data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the number of Mauritanians migrants illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border increased from 1,000 to over 8,500 between March and June. This wave of arrivals is likely to have outpaced the pre-existing estimate of 8,000 foreign-born Mauritanians already residing in the U.S., with a considerable portion located in Ohio.
Unlike previous waves of migration driven by crises, this surge is propelled mainly by the influence of social media. The new path provides an alternative to difficult journeys through the Darien Gap jungle or dangerous boat voyages to Europe for migrants.
Travel agencies have capitalized on this trend, promoting the journey on social media platforms, including TikTok. Videos on these platforms feature messages like “The American Dream is still available” and “Arrive in the USA via Nicaragua.”
However, this newfound route isn’t without its challenges. Stories of robberies and hardships of the migrants have surfaced, a 23-year-old nurse, Aissata Sall, told the Associated Press of being robbed by men posing as police officers on a bus in Mexico before facing dehydration and hospitalization.
Despite the hardships, many migrants consider the risks worthwhile, given the reported state violence against Black Mauritanians, which escalated after the death of Oumar Diop in police custody.
The route utilized by many of the migrants costs on average $8,000 to $10,000. Reports say that some families sell their land or livestock to cover the costs of the trips in hope for a better future.
According to Bakary Tandia, a Mauritanian activist in New York, the allure of a perceived opportunity is driving the rush of migrants to take this new path. Tandia said, “The reality is: People are seeing a window of opportunity, that’s why they are rushing.