Teens hoping to escape the pressure of gang recruitment in El Salvador by fleeing to the US might breathe a sigh of relief when they cross the border.
Their solace is often short-lived. If they haven’t checked their Facebook privacy settings — and even sometimes if they have — the gang extortions and threats soon pop up again.
“When [immigrant teens] come to the United States, there’s always a way to be found, unfortunately, unless someone can be in a situation that’s similar to a witness protection program,” says Salvadoran American Susan Cruz, who helps young immigrants in conflict with the law. “They start cross-referencing by cell phone numbers. You can look up someone’s Facebook profile with their cell phone number alone.”
Social media and the prevalence of cell phones has allowed gang networks to communicate in “real time.” And immigrants often chose to stay in touch with family members back in El Salvador, making their online footprint easy to follow.