A group of human traffickers was apprehended in northern Mexico earlier this month smuggling Central American migrants north in cars registered with the Uber ride-hailing service.
Five cars were stopped June 10 at the border of the Mexican states Coahuila and Zacatecas carrying 34 undocumented migrants, Reuters reported. Of the five cars, four were registered with Uber.
Central American migrants traditionally use a freight train known as "La Bestia" — "The Beast" — to traverse Mexico, but authorities cracked down on the practice in 2015, partly because of U.S. pressure and because migrants on the rail line had become a magnet for organized crime.
"First we saw them on trains, then on buses, then on trucks and today we see them in rented vehicles,” Segismundo Doguin, a National Migration Institute officer in Coahuila, told Reuters.
The migrants allegedly paid 3,000 pesos — about $164 — to be picked up in Matehuala, a highway hub about 220 miles south of the international border. They were headed to Reynosa, a city across the Rio Grande from McAllen, Texas.
Uber Mexico said it was cooperating with authorities but denied any responsibility in the event, as Uber drivers are independent contractors and not employees.
Three of the drivers had previously been registered with Uber.
Doguin said it was not the first time Uber cars had been detected as part of smuggling operations.
"About two months ago, seven other vehicles were detected in the area of San Luis Potosi state ... and were also in the Uber system,” he said.
Although net migration from Mexico to the United States has remained at zero or negative levels since at least 2009, Central American migration has skyrocketed.
In 2014, a surge in unaccompanied minors from the Northern Triangle of Central America — Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras — overwhelmed U.S. border enforcement officials.
In 2015, U.S. and Mexican immigration authorities cracked down on immigration, achieving a sharp reduction. In the first six months of fiscal 2016, authorities apprehended 78 percent more unaccompanied children and 131 percent more families than in 2015.