How social media guides Chinese migrants to US

STORY: Scenes like these are becoming more common along the U.S.-Mexico border…

long lines of Chinese nationals, being questioned by U.S. Border Patrol agents.

“The people here, the police here, are very kind. And that’s the America in my head.”

A growing number of Chinese migrants are crossing into the United States from Mexico without visas,

taking irregular overland routes across Latin America.

Over the course of three weeks, Reuters witnessed hundreds of Chinese nationals along an isolated border stretch in southeastern Texas.

Reuters interviewed more than two dozen of them.

All of those interviewed said they got the idea to take the land route on social media

and drew on influencers, private groups and comments to plan their trips.

We’re blurring their faces and not naming them… to protect their identity.

“I go to Hong Kong from Hubei first, then to Thailand from Hong Kong by plane, then Turkey from Thailand by plane, then Ecuador and up through South America to America here.”

The Chinese Embassy in Washington said in an email

that the government opposes illegal migration, which “is an international issue that requires cooperation between countries.”

The economic after-shocks of China’s COVID lockdowns coupled with the difficulty of obtaining U.S. visas

have led to a sharp increase in Chinese nationals presenting at the U.S.-Mexico border.

That’s according to immigration experts, attorneys and current and former U.S. officials.

Immigration attorney Xiaosheng Huang:

“China had a very strict zero COVID-19 tolerance policy. So basically everything is shut down, homes shut down, businesses shut down, the whole country is shut down. The people cannot stay at home staring at the wall all the time. They have to make money to make ends meet. The mortgage has to be paid and the food has to be on the table, so they have no opportunity over there.”

Apprehensions of Chinese nationals at the U.S.-Mexican border reached more than 6,500 in the six months since October 2022.

That’s according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data.

While just a sliver of the hundreds of thousands of migrants arriving at the southwest border,

Chinese people were the fastest growing demographic in those six months, CBP data show.

Some of them had relied on social media for detailed instructions for the trip,

including what shoes to wear and how to find and pay for a reliable local guide.

One of the platforms is the short video app Douyin, the Chinese counterpart of TikTok.

"They start talking about getting out of the country on the social media, such as Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok and some other platforms. So the exchanges are the information: how to get out of the country, how to go to Ecuador, from Europe or Macao, Hong Kong.”

Both TikTok and Douyin are owned by ByteDance.

The company did not respond to Reuters requests for comment on the role of their websites in encouraging the increase in irregular migration.