A recent report from the US-Mexico border revealed that human smuggling organizations have begun giving special bracelets to undocumented migrants, a practice that seems to illustrate the different tiers that exist among even the most downtrodden and desperate travelers.
The plastic bracelets have been found on many Central American and Mexican migrants trying to enter the United States without documentation, a Reuters report said last week. The use of the bracelets, which are thin plastic with snap-buttons, appears to be a new tactic by some smuggling groups to better coordinate the hazardous and complicated journey.
News of the bracelets comes at a time when migrant arrivals are surging at the US southern border. Apprehensions are expected to reach a two-decade high, complicating US President Joe Biden's promise to treat undocumented migrants more humanely than the Donald Trump administration.
The plastic bracelets started appearing about six months ago in south Texas, across from the state of Tamaulipas, a spokesman for the US Customs and Border Protection told InSight Crime. They are often discarded along the banks of the Rio Grande and other clandestine border crossing routes.
Officials said they have not determined how exactly the bracelets are used or what the different colors mean. Some of them are labeled with the words “entry” or “arrival,” according to Reuters. US authorities suspect that it is a way of keeping track of everyone in the group, as well as who has paid for what type of trip.
The multi-colored bracelets have so far not been documented at other parts of the border, the spokesman said.
InSight Crime Analysis
Not everyone who crosses the border pays the same price or receives the same service. The bracelets seem to be a way for the smugglers to more easily determine this hierarchy.
Indeed, the bracelets are probably a way to easily identify the migrants and confirm that they paid for the right to move through criminal-controlled areas without being extorted, kidnapped or killed.
Smugglers can sometimes charge thousands of dollars to escape Central America, risking arrest in heavily patrolled areas of Mexico, like Chiapas. In many cases, migrants go into debt to pay the cost, which grants them two or three attempts at making it to the US.
Some migrants only pay to reach the border, then have to find the next layer of smugglers to get them across. Migrants also tend to pass through crime-ridden areas in states like Sonora, Chihuahua and Coahuila, where a fee, or "piso," is sometimes required to guarantee a migrant’s safety.
The most vulnerable try to cross on their own and risk kidnapping, forcible recruitment or worse.
The bracelets have only been found in south Texas, near the US Border Patrol’s McAllen station. Until the bracelets start popping up in Arizona and California, it is safe to assume that this is not a widespread practice, but rather a new strategy for particular smuggling groups.
Migrants often cross through Tamaulipas, which is caught in a bloody feud between remnants of the Gulf Cartel and the so-called Northeast Cartel, a powerful offshoot of the Zetas. The state has also been marred with numerous massacres over the last two decades -- one involving nearly 200 victims.
Smugglers have come up with creative ways to disguise their activities. Passwords are used to enter stash houses. Migrants have also dressed in camouflage to cross through the Texas desert, while others have hidden in secret compartments in the backs of trucks.