Blog dedicated to reporting on Mexican drug cartels
on the border line between the US and Mexico

Friday, March 26, 2021

Mexican Cartels Use Wristband System to Bring Order to Business

"MX" for Borderland Beat

A shoe is seen surrounded by wristbands discarded by asylum seeking migrants from Central America along the banks of the Rio Grande river where migrants entered the United States from Mexico, in Penitas, Texas, U.S. (source: Reuters)

A mass-migration surge along the U.S. southern border has so overwhelmed Mexican cartel-associated smugglers that they are requiring their customers to wear numbered, colored, and labeled wristbands to denote payment and help them manage their swelling human inventory.

"It's an inventory system," a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) official confirmed. "They're all over the place."

The plastic bands - red, blue, green, white - some labeled “arrivals” or “entries” in Spanish, are discarded after migrants cross the river on makeshift rafts, according to a Reuters witness. Their 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 into officials, often to seek asylum.

Border Patrol agents in the Rio Grande Valley sector, which spans more than 34,000 square miles (88,000 square kilometers) along the border in southeast Texas, have recently encountered immigrants wearing the bracelets during several apprehensions, said Matthew Dyman a spokesman for CBP.

The “information on the bracelets represents a multitude of data that is used by smuggling organizations, such as payment status or affiliation with smuggling groups,” Dyman said.

The differing smuggling techniques come as Democratic President Joe Biden’s administration has sought to reverse restrictive immigration polices set up by his predecessor, former President Donald Trump. But a recent jump in border crossings has Republicans warning the easing of hardline policies will lead to an immigration crisis.

U.S. border agents carried out nearly 100,000 apprehensions or rapid expulsions of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border in February, according to two people familiar with preliminary figures, the highest monthly total since mid-2019.


The categorization system illustrates the sophistication of organized criminal groups ferrying people across the U.S.-Mexico border, said Theresa Cardinal Brown, director of immigration and cross-border policy at the Washington-based Bipartisan Policy Center

“They run it like a business,” said Cardinal Brown, which means “finding more patrons and looking for efficiencies.” Migrants can pay thousands of dollars for the journey to the United States and human smugglers have to pay off drug cartels to move people through parts of Mexico.

“This is a money-making operation and they have to pay close attention to who has paid,” she said. “This may be a new way to keep track.”

Criminal groups operating in northern Mexico, however, have long used systems to log 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 increased numbers of Central American were arriving at the border on express buses in 2019, smugglers kept tabs on them by double checking “the names and IDs of migrants before they got off the bus to make sure they had paid,” Cardinal Brown said.

A migrant in Reynosa - one of the most dangerous cities in Mexico across the border from McAllen, Texas - who declined to give his name for fear of retaliation, showed Reuters a picture of a purple wristband he was wearing.

He said he paid $500 to one of the criminal groups in the city after he arrived a few months ago from Honduras to secure the purple bracelet to protect against kidnapping or extortion. He said 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’re not in danger, neither us nor the ‘coyote,’” he said, using the Spanish word for smuggler.

One human smuggler who spoke on conditions of anonymity, confirmed the bracelets were a system to designate who has paid for the right to transit through cartel territory.

“They are putting these (bracelets) on so there aren’t killings by mistake,” he said.

Migrants and smugglers say the use of bracelets to designate who has paid for the right to cross the river is a system required by the cartels that control waterfront territory in the conflict-ridden state of Tamaulipas.

In January, Borderland Beat reported that 19 people (sixteen of them migrants) were massacred in Tamaulipas state just 40 miles (70 km) west of Reynosa. Twelve local Mexican police have been arrested in connection with the massacre.

Video depicting colored wrist-bands found at the US-Mexico border

Source: Reuters


  1. “They run it like a business" duh whattafuckinsurprise!!!

    Human smuggling - just like drug smuggling - is a business, but ya gotta be a politician to be surprised I reckon.

  2. 30 years of increasingly harsh drug laws (legal weed excepted) has been accompanied with flooding our nation with drugs.

    Since Trumps increasingly restrictive immigration policy we have hit all-time high illegal immigration.

    Is there a cause-effect relationship here maybe?

    Could it be that the with increased government repression profit from people's desperation (addiction/hunger etc) goes up leading to organized crime thriving and growing in strength?

    Is it possible to successfully combat people's desperation with repressive measures?

    1. Lol! This statement is a real gem!

      "Since Trumps increasingly restrictive immigration policy we have hit all-time high illegal immigration."

      Yeah there's an immigration crisis NOW because Trump had restrictive policies. 🙄
      It's totally not because Biden has made it much easier to get in the country so everyone is lining up to give it a try. Delude yourself much? 😂🤣😂

      To me it seems like it would be difficult to still be blaming everything that happens in this country on Trump. But to the brainwashed TDS afflicted like yourself I guess it's just par for the course.

      I'm going to be laughing my ass off when the left is still blaming Trump for the stupid shit Biden is doing three years from now. Shit, 10 years from now you'll still be blaming Trump because Democrats will never take personal responsibility for anything bad that happens and sheep like you will still be spouting whatever MSNBCNN tells you is the truth.

    2. "Legal" weed is NOT an exception - it has always been illegal under FEDERAL law which overrides state law.

    3. @12:32 dude you been tweaking again! 2019 was the highest ever and now its even higher. Trmp did nothing that stemmed the flood of immigrants. And now what? The yada-yada that 'had it not been for Trmp it would have been worse'??? Yeah rite!

    4. 4:13 I was saying that because good weed is now available in my state no one here is smoking Mexican dirt-weed anymore. The fact that it is federally illegal is absolutely irrelevant to the point I was making.

      4:22 I just want to thank you for presenting valid and articulate arguments. I can tell that you really put some thought into what you said. Thank you for leaving us all a little bit smarter than we were before we read your post. Your argument sir has effectively won the entire internet. Congratulations. 🏆🎉🎈

    5. U are kidding, trump stopped and slowed illegals. Hey where they get the $6000 to cross????????

  3. Wow drug sales, kidnapping, extortion, land thefts, train robberies, now the cartels tax migrants to pass through. He here obrador says cartels don't control all of Mexico.

    1. Nothing new, but the wristband system. Cartels have taxed and smuggled humans and / or Los Coyotes for years.

    2. For decades!

    3. Amlo let's it happen.

    4. Exactly.

      My dad used to crossed the rio several times throughout the 60s/70s via Miguel aleman and Camargo Tamps.

      Now the cartels started taxing the “coyotes” to make up for lost money from drug confiscations. Or basically generate more income.

  4. Launching soon: an ERP for Organized Crime.

  5. Maybe the migrants killed in Tamaulipas were not wearing a wristband or perhaps were using the “wrong one” (from a rival group)?

    - El Choclo

    1. Very possible... or the coyote didn’t pay piso to the right group...

      -Holden D. Cash

    2. Actually the Green bands are from Ranas nightclubs.

  6. When AMLO met with Trump he was on the right track. One of the major reasons we're in this whole immigration/ narco violence is a result of the wage disparity between the U.S and Canada and the rest of Latin America. People are resorting to whatever criminal activities they're doing to keep up with the American lifestyle. I've said it many times before, how is it fair for a Mexican garmet worker to make 150 pairs of Levi's a day and still not be able to afford 1 pair for himself by the end of the week. Canadians have sustainable wages why not the rest of Latin America? You want people to stop drug trafficking? You want people to stop immigrating north illegally? Raise the wages to Canadian and American standards.


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