Aissata Sall was scrolling through WhatsApp in May when she first learned about the new route from Mauritania to the United States.

The opportunity to leave her West African nation of Mauritania for a new life in the U.S., made possible by a little-known point of entry in Nicaragua.

Social media accounts dedicated to promoting the thoroughfare described the journey in breezy, inspirational terms.

The route brought Sall and others to a squat brick house in suburban Cincinnati. It has carried thousands of other Mauritanians to the United States in recent months, a sudden and unexpected influx that has highlighted the growing power of social media to dramatically alter the flow of migration across the globe.

Many who left Mauritania say they are fleeing economic insecurity and state violence directed toward the country’s Black population by the Arab-led government.

But some who left say they were misled about the dangers of the trip and the future that awaited them in the United States.

Sall, a 23-year-old nurse in Mauritania who borrowed money from family and friends to pay for the tickets, said she was robbed on a bus in Mexico by men dressed as police officers. After crossing the border, she was hospitalized with dehydration.

“The route I took to get here is no good, my phone was stolen, my money was stolen,” Sall said.

The surge appears to be enabled, in large part, by the rapid spread of information online about a relatively new change in Nicaragua’s immigration policy, which allows for nationals from much of Africa and Asia to obtain a low-cost visa without proof of onward travel or a return ticket.


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