Along the banks of the Rio Grande in the overgrown grasslands near Peñitas in southeastern Texas, hundreds of colored plastic wristbands torn off by migrants litter the ground, signs of what U.S. border officials say It is a growing trend among powerful drug cartels and human traffickers to track down people who pay to cross illegally into the United States.
The red, blue, green, white plastic bands – some labeled “arrivals” or “entries” in Spanish – are discarded after migrants cross the river in makeshift rafts, according to a Reuters witness. Its use has not been widely reported before.
Some migrants are trying to evade border agents, others are mostly Central American families or young children traveling without parents who turn themselves in to officials, often to seek asylum protection due to dangers in their home countries.
Border patrol agents in the Rio Grande Valley sector, which stretches more than 34,000 square miles along the Texas-Mexico border, have recently encountered immigrants wearing armbands during various arrests, Matthew said. Dyman, a spokesman for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
The “information on the wristbands represents a multitude of data that smuggling organizations use, such as pay status or affiliation with smuggling groups,” Dyman told Reuters.
The different smuggling techniques come as the Joe Biden administration has tried to reverse the restrictive immigration policies set by his predecessor, Donald Trump. But a recent spike in border crossings caused Republicans to warn loudly and repeatedly that easing hard-line policies will lead to an immigration crisis.
US border agents carried out nearly 100,000 arrests or swift removals of migrants at the US-Mexico border in February, the highest monthly total since mid-2019.
The bracelets-wearing categorization system illustrates the sophistication of organized crime groups that transport people across the border, said Theresa Cardinal Brown, director of immigration and cross-border policy at the Washington DC-based bipartisan policy center.
“They run it like a business,” Cardinal Brown said, which means “finding more customers and looking for efficiencies.”
Migrants can pay thousands of dollars for the trip to the United States and human traffickers have to pay drug cartels to move people through parts of Mexico where they claim the territory.
“This is a profitable operation and they have to pay close attention to who has paid,” he said. “This may be a new way to keep track.”
However, criminal groups operating in northern Mexico have long used systems to record which migrants have already paid for the right to be in gang-controlled territory, as well as for the right to cross the border into the United States. migration experts said.
When more Central Americans arrived at the border on express buses in 2019, smugglers monitored them by double-checking “the names and identifications of migrants before getting off the bus to make sure they had paid,” Cardinal Brown said.
A migrant in Reynosa, one of Mexico’s most dangerous cities, just across the border from McAllen, Texas, who refused to give his name for fear of retaliation, showed Reuters a photo of a purple bracelet he was wearing.
He said he paid $ 500 to one of the city’s criminal groups after he arrived a few months ago from Honduras to secure the purple bracelet to protect against kidnapping or extortion.
He said that once migrants or their smugglers have paid for the right to cross the river, which is also controlled by criminal groups, they receive another bracelet.
“This way we are not in danger, neither we nor the coyote,” he said, using the Spanish word for smuggler.
A human smuggler who spoke under conditions of anonymity confirmed that the bracelets were a system to designate who paid for the right to transit through the cartel’s territory.
“They are putting these (bracelets) on so there are no mistaken killings,” he said.
Migrants and traffickers say it is a system required by the cartels that control coastal territory in the conflict-ravaged Mexican border state of Tamaulipas.
In January, a group of the migrants were massacred in the state of Tamaulipas just 40 miles west of Reynosa. Twelve police officers have been arrested in connection with the killings.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism