Spanberger, Burgess, Ciscomani Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Crack Down on Cartels Recruiting Americans Through Social Media

The “Combating Cartels on Social Media Act” Would Require DHS to Build a Portal for Social Media Companies to Report Recruitment Activities for Human Smuggling, Narcotics Trafficking Along the Southern Border

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Representatives Abigail Spanberger (D-VA-07), Michael C. Burgess, M.D. (R-TX-26), and Juan Ciscomani (R-AZ-06) today introduced bipartisan legislation in the U.S. House to address illicit recruitment activity by transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) on social media — and to fight back against cartels using online platforms to recruit Americans for smuggling operations along the southern border.

According to federal and local law enforcement, there has been an uptick in TCOs using social media platforms to recruit drivers to help with human smuggling operations. Posts on social media apps like TikTok, Instagram, and Snapchat promise thousands of dollars for just a few hours of driving — and they will even include the vehicle and gas money. “Drivers” are often unaware the posters are TCOs and human smugglers.

The bipartisan Combating Cartels on Social Media Act would establish and implement a national strategy to combat these activities. By enhancing cooperation between government agencies and private sector platforms, this legislation would help law enforcement hold cartels accountable — while also giving border communities and communities across the country the tools they need to engage with and educate at-risk youth who are targeted by the cartels. The bill is companion legislation to a U.S. Senate bill led by U.S. Senators Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ), James Lankford (R-OK), Mark Kelly (D-AZ), and Bill Hagerty (R-TN).

“As a former federal agent and former CIA case officer who tracked transnational criminal organizations, I understand how the tactics of cartels evolve. And right now, social media is the latest battlefield in the fight against human smuggling and narcotics trafficking. We need to make sure that technology companies are punishing — not ignoring — these recruitment tactics on their platforms,” said Spanberger. “Our bipartisan bill goes after the cartels, holds them accountable for preying on vulnerable populations, and recognizes the urgency of the crisis at our southern border. I’m proud to work with both parties to protect more Americans from unwittingly helping these criminals, boost our efforts against trafficking, and build an all-hands-on-deck strategy in the fight against cartels.”

“During a recent Energy and Commerce Committee field hearing in McAllen, Texas, witness Brandon Judd told us that the cartels are using social media platforms to recruit and advertise their illegal services,” said Burgess. “The cartels are luring American teens to join them in smuggling and sometimes trafficking immigrants in the U.S. These actions endanger the lives of these teens, every American, and even those who are being trafficked. It is important that we pass this bipartisan and bicameral legislation to help secure our border and hold social media companies accountable for their participation in our current border crisis.”

“The number one cause of death in Pima County’s teenagers is currently fentanyl overdoses—a majority of which are coming from the cartels,” said Ciscomani. “Sadly, the same cartels have been using social media to recruit young people from across the country to traffic these drugs and others like them from our southern border. I’m proud to be a part of this bipartisan effort to crack down on illegal activity online, go after the abhorrent cartels instigating it, and hold our social media platforms accountable.”

Specifically, the bipartisan Combating Cartels on Social Media Act would require the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to analyze cartels’ illicit usage of social media and establish a portal for technology companies to report cartel recruitment efforts in America to DHS.  

The bipartisan bill would also require DHS to create a “National Strategy to Combat Illicit Recruitment Activity by Transnational Criminal Organizations on Social Media and Online Platforms.” This strategy would focus on improving cooperation between DHS and state and local law enforcement agencies, build a proposal for implementing a reporting system for social media platforms, and improve coordination within DHS itself. Additionally, the strategy would help facilitate increased intelligence analysis for law enforcement and help foster more international cooperation on this issue.

Click here for the bill text.

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