Cartels and smuggling networks on the U.S.-Mexico border are growing more sophisticated, bracing for a historic surge of illegal immigration this spring.
The Biden administration says there’s no crisis at the border, although the numbers of unaccompanied minors coming across right now, and the federal government’s scramble to find housing for them, say otherwise.
But migrant children are only part of the story. What most news outlets are not reporting is the surge in adults crossing the border illegally, ferried over the Rio Grande and escorted into the U.S. by smuggling networks that contract with powerful cartels to bring people in without being apprehended by Border Patrol.
These operations are sophisticated — so sophisticated that smugglers are now requiring migrants to wear wristbands as a way to keep track of who has paid and which smuggling outfit is in charge of whom. Jaeson Jones, a retired captain for the Texas Department of Public Safety and owner of Tripwires and Triggers, which tracks cartel activity on the border, shared images with The Federalist of discarded wristbands on the U.S. side of the border that he says “represent a process that says which smuggler group has moved them,” as well as other information.
The bands are put on migrants’ left wrist at stash houses in Mexico, just across the border, before the groups come into the U.S., Jones told The Federalist. The bands all have numbers linked to a database of personal information: name, phone number, destination in the U.S., and information about family members in the country of origin, in case payments are late. Jones said smugglers will verify cell phone numbers, both of the migrant and his family back home, at the time the wristbands are distributed in the stash house.
Todd Bensman of the Center for Immigration Studies reported earlier this week on the wristbands, quoting a U.S. Customs and Border official who confirmed that Border Patrol agents have been finding wristbands for months now. “It’s an inventory system,” the official told CIS. “They’re all over the place.”
Illegal Immigration Is a Major Black Market Industry
This wristband inventory system is something new on the border (Jones first posted about it in mid-February), but it confirms what close observers have been saying for years: Illegal immigration along the southwest border is a big business, with revenue in the billions, and getting bigger every year.
Every person who crosses the border, whether man, woman, or child, is supposed to pay a fee to smugglers. These smugglers operate with the permission and cooperation of whichever cartel controls a particular area, and the cartel gets a cut of every smuggling fee that’s paid. Think of it as a “cartel tax.”
The way it used to be done is that migrants would pay up-front for passage over the Rio Grande and beyond the Border Patrol checkpoints just north of the border. But now, cartels and smugglers have turned this into a lucrative black market industry with a tiered pricing scheme for different nationalities. Prices are so high that almost no one can pay it up-front. According to Jones, who says he verified these prices with a cartel source, Mexican nationals must pay $2,500, Venezuelans, Peruvians, Ecuadorans, and Hondurans must pay $3,000, Chinese nationals pay $5,000, and Russians and migrants from the Middle East must pay $9,000.
The system amounts to a form of debt-bondage, which Jones says is “really a modern form of slavery.”
The wristbands help keep track of who has paid what to whom. The need for such a system became apparent during the 2019 border crisis, when large groups of migrants — including one with more than a thousand people — were crossing the U.S.-Mexico border every day. The chaos and volume of illegal immigration meant that not everyone was paying, which meant the cartels were not getting their cut. The wristband system is an effort to correct that.
As conditions deteriorate along the border — just this week, an SUV carrying dozens of illegal immigrants was hit by a tractor-trailer in Southern California, killing 13, while dozens of newly released migrants in South Texas tested positive for COVID-19 — Americans need to understand that illegal immigration is a massive money-making scheme for international criminal syndicates, which exploit migrants every step of the way, including after they’re in the U.S.
President Joe Biden and other administration officials can insist all they want there’s no crisis at the border, but the truth is that the crisis is just beginning, and the cartels and smugglers behind it are about to make a lot of money.