Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook, has not revised its policy allowing the solicitation of human smuggling after one of the worst mass casualty events of migrants in U.S. history.
In what the mayor of San Antonio called a "horrific human tragedy," 51 migrants were found dead in a semi-truck on the side of a road hundreds of miles from the southern border on Monday evening. Local authorities said the surviving victims—at least four of whom are children—suffered from heat stroke and exhaustion.
The catastrophe prompted bipartisan calls for an investigation into the migrant deaths. President Joe Biden on Tuesday said "the incident underscores the need to go after the multi-billion dollar criminal smuggling industry preying on migrants and leading to far too many innocent deaths."
Yet the social media company Meta—which owns Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp—remains silent. In February, Meta announced in an internal memo it would allow the solicitation of human smugglers on its platforms out of fears that banning the practice would result in harm against those who "seek safety or exercise their human rights."
It remains unclear whether the victims used a Meta platform. Law enforcement said on Tuesday that they detained three people "believed to be part of a human smuggling operation."
Law enforcement and immigration experts have long said that cartel-connected smugglers, also known as coyotes, depend on Meta's platforms to lure in migrants with false hopes of an easy journey to the United States. The resulting trip is often brutal, filled with physical and sexual abuse and little rations.
Meta did not respond to a request for comment.
Critics of the Biden administration’s border policies like Sen. Josh Hawley (R., Mo.) say the deaths in San Antonio are a direct result of the lax policies of tech companies and the Biden administration.
"Meta has aided and abetted Joe Biden’s open border policies and this latest tragedy in Texas underscores the need to scrutinize corporate policies that have made the crisis at the border worse," a spokesman for Hawley told the Washington Free Beacon.
Rep. Kat Cammack (R., Fla.) echoed Hawley's criticism and said the loss of life was "entirely preventable."
"This administration and Biden as the trafficker-in-chief are solely to blame for this horrific tragedy in Texas," Cammack told Free Beacon. "Not only has Secretary Mayorkas and DHS done absolutely nothing in the way of border security to prevent something like this from happening, but their lack of action in preventing the open advertisement for human smuggling and trafficking services is deplorable."
Federal authorities have not publicly identified where the truck carrying the migrants came from, or how long the victims were kept in the back before being discovered by a civilian who heard cries for help. Most of the migrants found in the truck were from Mexico. Some originated from Haiti and Guatemala.
"We're not supposed to open up a truck and see stacks of bodies in there," the San Antonio fire chief said at a press conference Monday. "None of us come to work imagining that."
In its memo, Meta said its decision to tolerate the solicitation of human smuggling came after consulting with a variety of unnamed parties including nongovernmental organizations.
The memo also announced that Meta "proposed interventions such as sending resources to users soliciting smuggling services" and permitting "sharing information related to illegal border crossing." A spokesman for Meta at the time did not specify what kind of "information resources" it offers to migrants seeking to enter the United States illegally.
The spokesman said the platform would only tolerate human smuggling, not human trafficking. The latter is defined by individuals brought to foreign countries for the purposes of forced labor or sexual abuse. The spokesman did not say how the company can distinguish between the two in practice, particularly when such high numbers of migrants are abused during their journey to the United States.
Meta said in its memo that allowing the solicitation of human smuggling brings "tradeoffs." By allowing the practice, criminal networks can "identify and connect with vulnerable people," the company said.
Migrants left to die by smugglers is not uncommon. In the 2022 fiscal year, Customs and Border Protections have undertaken more than 14,000 search and rescue missions along the southern border. The agency recorded nearly 13,000 search and rescue missions in 2021, compared with around 5,000 in 2019 and 2020.
In December, a U.S.-bound truck smuggling more than 200 migrants crashed in Mexico, injuring at least 50 and killing 55, the Free Beacon reported.