Lihua Wu’s journey to the United States started when she scrolled past the words “The Route,” one of several common hashtags on Douyin, the Chinese counterpart of TikTok, advising migrants on the irregular overland trek across Latin America to the United States, also known online as “the Big Beautiful.”

By the time the single mother and her five-year-old daughter were apprehended by U.S. Border Patrol on a dirt road near the U.S.-Mexico border just before midnight on April 2, Wu said she had relied on social media for detailed instructions for her trip, including footwear (Crocs as well as hiking boots) and how to find and pay for a reliable local guide.

The difficulty of obtaining U.S. visas and the economic after-shocks of China’s COVID lockdowns have led to a sharp increase in Chinese nationals presenting at the U.S.-Mexico border – and some of those arrivals, like Wu, learned about how to come online, migrants, immigration experts, attorneys, and current and former U.S. officials, told Reuters.

Over the course of three weeks photographing and reporting from a remote border stretch in southeastern Texas, Reuters witnessed hundreds of Chinese migrants crossing into the United States and interviewed more than two dozen in Mandarin.

All of those interviewed said they got the idea to take the land route to the United States on social media and drew on influencers, private groups and comments to plan their trips.

About half said they had been small business owners in China: running online stores, a sheep farm, a movie production company.


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