- The Washington Times - Friday, September 26, 2003

More than 1,000 suspected child-sex offenders have been arrested by federal agents since July in a nationwide undercover investigation that targeted child-pornography purveyors and other predatory criminals, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

Assistant Secretary Michael J. Garcia, who heads the department’s newly created Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), said agents — as part of “Operation Predator” — have taken into custody child pornography suspects in nearly every state and every major American city, including both U.S. citizens and foreigners living in this country.

Those arrested included U.S. citizens who traveled overseas to meet with children for sex, others who were accused of molesting mentally impaired children and those accused of smuggling foreign children into the United States to serve as prostitutes.

About 400 of those taken into custody were charged with manufacturing or distributing child pornography on the Internet.

“The goal of Operation Predator is to get these people off the streets and we’re doing that,” Mr. Garcia told reporters. “More and more children, boys and girls not even old enough to read, are falling victim to the increasingly organized and profitable trade of human trafficking.”

In addition to the 1,007 arrests since July, ICE agents also have identified for state and local police agencies more than 250 children featured in child pornography digital images, and responded to more than 140 calls on ICE’s toll-free hot line (1-866-DHS-2ICE), allowing the public to report information about suspected child-sex offenders and other child predators.

Operation Predator began July 9 as a law enforcement initiative aimed at protecting children from pornographers, child prostitution rings, Internet predators and human traffickers. Coordinated through ICE, the program used the Internet to more effectively identify child predators, prosecute them and force them out of the country if they were foreigners subject to deportation.

“Operation Predator integrates the department’s authorities to target those who exploit children,” Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said in announcing the program. “The Department of Homeland Security is coordinating the department’s once-fragmented investigative and intelligence resources into a united campaign against child predators.”

ICE authorities have joined with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to facilitate the exchange of information on missing children, as well as investigative intelligence leads. For the first time, bureau officials said, an ICE senior agent has been assigned to the center to coordinate those leads requiring law enforcement attention.

As part of the program, ICE officials also have teamed with the FBI, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the U.S. Secret Service and the Justice Department to develop a National Child Victim Identification Program. The secure system is the nation’s first comprehensive program of child pornography images designed to help police around the world identify and rescue children featured in the images and crack down on those who make and distribute the material.

“There is nothing more important than protecting our children, the future of our nation,” said Mr. Garcia. “Through Operation Predator, ICE is in a unique position to carry out this critical responsibility.”

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