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Mauritanians Flocking to US via Social Media Route

CINCINNATI — Aissata Sall first learned about the new route to the United States while scrolling through WhatsApp in May. Ibrahima Sow discovered it on TikTok a few weeks later. By the time Sall and Sow crossed paths in Cincinnati, they had encountered hundreds of other Mauritanians who were following the same path. The popularity of this route among younger migrants from Mauritania can largely be attributed to social media.

The spike in migration was made possible by the discovery of a new route through Nicaragua, where relaxed entry requirements allow Mauritanians and other foreign nationals to purchase a low-cost visa without proof of onward travel. Travel agencies and paid influencers have taken to TikTok to promote the trip, selling packages of flights that leave from Mauritania, then connect through various countries and ultimately arrive in Managua, Nicaragua. From there, the migrants, along with asylum seekers from other nations, are smuggled north by bus.

The influx of Mauritanians has surprised officials in the US. From March to June, more than 8,500 Mauritanians arrived in the country by crossing the border illegally from Mexico, compared to just 1,000 in the previous four months. The new arrivals likely now outnumber the estimated 8,000 foreign-born Mauritanians previously living in the US.

Many Mauritanians are leaving due to state violence directed against Black Mauritanians and increased racial tensions. The country was one of the last to criminalize slavery, and police have targeted activists fighting against it. With economic growth in Mauritania, many families are selling land or livestock to afford the costly trip to the US.

The Nicaragua route appeals to Mauritanians because it allows them to avoid dangerous boat voyages to Europe and the risk of interception in North Africa. However, the journey is not without risk, as some migrants have reported being misled about potential dangers and have experienced robbery and dehydration along the way.

Once in the US, Mauritanians enter through Yuma, Arizona, and either surrender to Border Patrol agents or go through a period of detention and screening before awaiting a court date. Many settle in Ohio, particularly in Cincinnati, where a tight-knit community of volunteers helps new arrivals with paperwork and provides housing support.

Despite the challenges, Mauritanians like Aissata Sall are grateful for the warm welcome and hope they have found in the US, as they see it as an opportunity for a better life.

Unique Perspective: The story of Mauritanians flocking to the US via a new social media route highlights the power of technology and its impact on migration patterns. Social media platforms like WhatsApp and TikTok have become not only sources of information and connection but also channels for advertising and promotion. This case also sheds light on the plight of Mauritanians and the challenges they face in their home country. It serves as a reminder that the American dream still holds allure for many around the world, despite the obstacles and risks involved in seeking a better life.

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