Homeland Security Committee Approves Sinema & Lankford-Led Bill Cracking Down on Cartel Recruitment & Smuggling

Jun 14, 2023

Senators’ bill cracking down on cartels recruiting Arizona teenagers through social media moves forward with bipartisan support

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs approved Border Management Subcommittee Chair Kyrsten Sinema’s and Ranking Member James Lankford’s Combating Cartels on Social Media Act – bipartisan legislation keeping families safe by cracking down on cartels that recruit teenagers through social media to conduct smuggling and trafficking.
Senators Sinema and Lankford introduced the bipartisan legislation with Democratic Senator Mark Kelly (Ariz.) and Republican Senator Bill Hagerty (Tenn.). Democratic Senator Jon Tester (Mont.) and Republican Senator Thom Tillis (N.C.) also backed the bipartisan bill.
“Cartels lure Arizona teenagers through social media into dangerous and illegal activities with the promise of easy cash, putting Arizonans’ lives at serious risk. I’m proud our legislation cracking down on this criminal activity to keep families safe, hold social media platforms accountable, and secure our border moves one step closer to becoming law,” said Sinema, Chair of the Senate Border Management Subcommittee. 
“Social media companies list in their ‘terms of service’ that the platform cannot be used for illegal activities, but at the same time they allow human smugglers to buy ads, promote how to illegally enter the US, and demonstrate how to avoid the US Border Patrol when crossing the border,” said Lankford, Ranking Member of the Senate Border Management Subcommittee. “The largest social media companies pick and choose which illegal activities they like and which they do not like, and clearly, they like people illegally crossing the US border. Social media companies need to be held accountable for turning their heads to human trafficking at the cost of human lives. Today, the Senate Homeland Security Committee took the first steps to make sure this stops.”
“We are pleased to see steps taken to address cartels’ use of social media to recruit load car drivers to transport migrants north from near the U.S.-Mexico Border,” said Sierra Vista Mayor Clea McCaa. “These load car drivers are encouraged to drive recklessly through southern Arizona communities, showing little regard for the potentially deadly consequences of their actions. This matter is of the utmost concern to residents of Sierra Vista and we hope action is taken expediently to confront it.”

“Up to 44 percent of all those arrested and booked into our jail have a border crime nexus,” said Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels. “Every day, my deputies work to keep our communities safe from load drivers recruited by cartels on social media. The Combatting Cartels on Social Media Act will help crack down on this recruitment, making Cochise County roads safer.”

“I want to thank Senators Sinema and Lankford for introducing and advocating for this important piece of legislation. Many Americans are not aware of the fact that the drug cartels in Mexico, who have no regard for human life, are routinely using social media platforms to recruit Americans to assist them with their smuggling operations. We see teenagers, some of whom are not even old enough to have a driver’s license lured into transporting illegal narcotics and aliens. The cartels promise easy money and thrill. What these young people often get is a dangerous high-speed chase and a felony conviction. These young people literally ruin their lives before they have even reached adulthood. I am so pleased to see this legislation clear the Senate Homeland Security Committee and I hope that Congress can quickly pass this legislation,” said Brandon Judd, President of the National Border Patrol Council.
Sinema and Lankford’s bipartisan Combating Cartels on Social Media Act establishes and implements a national strategy to combat illicit recruitment activity by transnational criminal organizations on social media and other online platforms to fight back against cartels using online platforms to recruit Arizonans for smuggling operations along the Southwest border. The strategy will help law enforcement hold cartels accountable while also giving border communities in Arizona the tools they need to engage with and educate at-risk youth who are targeted by the cartels.
The Senators’ legislation also requires the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to analyze cartels’ illicit usage of social media and establishes a process for technology companies to voluntarily report cartel recruitment efforts in the U.S. to DHS and state and local partners.
In April Sinema led a bipartisan Congressional delegation to the Southwest border where she discussed the challenges facing Arizona border communities with Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels and other local leaders. According to Sheriff Dannels, approximately 40% of the crime in Cochise County is border-related, and these crimes cost Arizona taxpayers $4.3 million in 2022. These border-related crimes include instances of cartels recruiting young American teenagers for dangerous smuggling operations along the border.
Later in April, Sinema and Lankford led a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Border Management Subcommittee hearing on the border and immigration crisis’s impact on border communities. During the hearing, the Senators heard concern from Sierra Vista Mayor Clea McCaa II about the very issue their bipartisan legislation corrects. Mayor McCaa detailed how cartels’ recruitment of young Americans to drive for smuggling operations not only weakens law enforcement’s ability to interdict other crimes, but puts innocent lives at risk.
Sinema visited Arizona’s border region as part of a Congressional delegation with Lankford last month. The Senators were briefed by Department of Homeland Security officials about how Arizona lives are put at risk by this recruitment of teenagers on social media by cartels and their associated criminal enterprises for smuggling activities.