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Want to “run”? TikTok tutors teach Chinese how to sneak into the US from Mexico

Border Patrol agent Rene Cisneros frisks Tom de Huachac, 33, who allegedly entered the US illegally. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)
May 06, 2023

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

TikTok users are teaching Chinese citizens fleeing the country — known as the “run” movement — how to navigate a dangerous smuggling route through Latin America, and the bureaucratic intricacies of getting settled in the United States while making a political asylum claim.

Chinese-language videos posted to TikTok under the hashtags “walk the line,” or “walk the line rainforest,” “illegal immigration,” and “U.S. immigration” and viewed by Radio Free Asia on Monday detailed various aspects of a grueling and often dangerous journey to the U.S. border via Mexico, as well as the exact processes to follow on arrival on American soil.

Videos posted to the hashtag “walk the line rainforest” show groups of people of different ages being shepherded along roped trails and across fast-flowing rivers, scrambling up steep muddy banks laden with camping equipment, or carrying babies and small children.

For those wanting to know what happens after they manage to enter the United States, the tips continue.

“Is it possible to get a green card if you cross the border illegally? The answer is yes,” says one video posted by TikTok user @ausa589, in a reference to immigration form I-589, Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal.

“If an immigration court accepts your 589 application, this will result in one of two outcomes,” the user says, adding that Chinese nationals have a 58% chance of being granted political asylum, and that successful applicants qualify for permanent residency after just one year, a claim backed up by a recent online U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services brochure.

‘Believe in yourselves’

Meanwhile, a video posted to the TikTok account @laoxiaotang details how to apply for a Bank of America account, specifying exactly which documentation will be needed.

“Believe in yourselves, guys, that you will successfully make it to America,” the user says in a different video. “It’s a lot like Shenzhen in China — very tolerant — Get over here!”

“If you do the whole trip DIY, you don’t need a huge amount of luggage, and nobody steals from you,” says another video posted by @run_away1688. “There are only four police fines, and the entire route is very low cost.”

“Step 1: Arrive in the Honduran capital Tegucigalpa, then buy a bus ticket — there are a lot of places you can buy them … the highway goes all the way to Guatemala,” the video explains. “When you get to the border, you won’t be allowed to cross, but someone will ask you when you get off the bus, if you’re headed to Guatemala.”

“They will guide you through the mountains,” it says, detailing a list of further bus trips and checkpoints on an itinerary that ends in Mexico.

Other users appeared to be documenting their own journey while sharing tips to those thinking of following in their trail.

“I’m worried that there are people … seeking to cheat people wanting to walk the line, particularly those who don’t have any money,” warns @jakedegongkairiji. “They keep sending out text messages, about realizing their dreams in America, about making U.S.$10,000 a month.”

“Believe them if you want to, but this is a personal warning from me to you,” the user says.

Jump in Chinese arriving at border

According to a recent in-depth report from Reuters, the difficulty of obtaining U.S. visas and the economic fallout from China’s zero-COVID policy have led to a jump in Chinese nationals arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Some of those arrivals learned about how to make the journey via TikTok and its Chinese counterpart Douyin, the report said.

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, the report said.

“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,” it said.

About half told Reuters that they had been small business owners in China, running online stores, a sheep farm or a movie production company, while others wore crosses and carried Chinese-language Bibles, saying they were leaving China so as to practice their faith more freely.

According to data from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, since October last year, the number of Chinese citizens arrested at the U.S.-Mexico border has reached more than 6,500 in just six months, a record high and 15 times that of the same period last year, the report said.

Douyin’s parent company, ByteDance, did not respond to a request for comment from Reuters.

In an emailed response to Reuters, the Chinese Embassy in Washington said that its government opposes illegal migration, calling it an “international issue that requires cooperation between countries.”