GOP senator grills TikTok CEO on how Chinese migrants learned to cross border: ‘Step-by-step instructions’

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FIRST ON FOX: A Republican senator is calling for answers from TikTok and its Chinese-based owner about videos on its platform that reportedly show users how to cross the U.S. southern border as the number of Chinese nationals crossing the border is increasing.

Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Mo., in a letter to the CEOs of TikTok and ByteDance, cited “alarming” reports that Chinese nationals are using TikTok and its Chinese counterpart to cross the southern border illegally.

CBS News reported how migrants were given step-by-step instructions for hiring smugglers and detailed directions about where gaps are along the southern border, particularly near parts of San Diego. 

Other outlets have reported on how Chinese immigrants drew on social media influencers, private groups and user comments to plan their trips overseas.

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TikTok is facing congressional scrutiny due to its Chinese ownership. (iStock)

“The extent of information related to penetrating the United States southern border is so rife on your platforms that some nationals have reported details related to certain modes of transportation to use. There are even posts on how much border officials expect to be bribed in countries along the way,” Schmitt said.

He said ByteDance’s contribution to the crisis “is of deep concern and jeopardizes our national security.”

Fox reported last month how Chinese nationals are the fastest growing migrant demographic in at least one border sector. The number of Chinese nationals has been increasing since fiscal year 2021. In fiscal 2022, numbers increased to more than 2,000. In fiscal 2023, that number surged to more than 24,300.

“Our nation is facing an unprecedented surge of illegal aliens crossing our southern border, threatening the safety and well-being of our citizens, and it is clear that your platform is directly contributing to this surge,” Schmitt said.

His requests for information included a timeline of when the companies began seeing videos promoting illegal immigration and any efforts to mitigate the effects of these videos, as well as any communications with Chinese government officials about illegal crossings.

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In a statement to Fox, Schmitt said TikTok needs to “provide answers on why the platform is further empowering coyotes, cartels and human traffickers to facilitate illegal crossings at our Southern border.” 

“TikTok is jeopardizing national security and shamelessly contributing to the disaster at our border. We need to know exactly what TikTok’s leadership in Beijing and in the United States has been communicating with the Chinese Communist Party and the full extent of how the social media platform has enabled illegal immigration into our country,” he said.

Fox News reached out to TikTok and ByteDance for comment for this story. In a statement to Fox last month, TikTok said it “strictly prohibits human smuggling, which we remove from our platform and report to law enforcement when warranted.”

According to TikTok’s website, the company provides a space for “survivors of human exploitation to share their stories and for migrants and refugees to be able to document their journeys, so we provide a space to do so.”

The social media company also claimed 93% of the human trafficking content on the platform was removed proactively. 

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The letter comes as the House approved a bill to force ByteDance to divest from TikTok.

Led by House China select committee Chair Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., and ranking member Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., the bill sailed through the House by a 352-65 bipartisan vote.

If signed into law, the bill would block the app in the U.S. if its parent company, ByteDance, does not divest from it within 165 days of passage. It would also require it to be bought by a country that is not a U.S. adversary.

Fox News’ Timothy Nerozzi contributed to this report.

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