- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 4, 2004

Operation Predator, a federal law-enforcement program targeting criminals who sexually abuse children, has been an unprecedented success since it began eight months ago, with more than 2,000 child predators and sex offenders arrested, says a top Department of Homeland Security official.

Assistant Secretary Michael J. Garcia, who leads U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), told a House subcommittee yesterday that the program has evolved into the largest-ever investigation of online child pornography and resulted in the first-ever arrests of “sex tourists” who travel to foreign countries to have sex with children.

“Each year, millions of children fall prey to sexual predators,” Mr. Garcia told the House Judiciary subcommittee on immigration, border security and claims. “These young victims are left with permanent psychological, physical and emotional scars.

“That tragedy is compounded by the fact that child prostitution, human trafficking, child pornography and international sex tourism now generate billions of dollars a year worldwide. The advent of the Internet, with its borderless and anonymous cyberspace, has created even greater opportunities for predators to profit by exploiting children,” he said.

Mr. Garcia described Operation Predator as a law-enforcement and public-awareness program that seeks to identify, investigate, arrest and, when appropriate, deport predators, and to educate parents about the threats their children face.

Among those arrested, he said, were a pediatrician in Chicago with child pornography in his home and date-rape drugs hidden in his car; an illegal immigrant in Texas, convicted of the sexual assault of a child after having been deported thrice from the United States; and a Seattle man who thought he could avoid justice by flying to Cambodia to engage in sex with 7-year-old boys.

Mr. Garcia said the operation began after investigators determined that among the criminal alien absconders in America — those who have been ordered deported but have not been found — many had been convicted for sexual offenses and, in particular, offenses against children.

He said that under federal law, any noncitizen who commits such a crime is to be deported, but that under the now-defunct Immigration and Naturalization Service that did not always happen.

“This committee has heard too many terrible stories about alien predators freed to prey upon children again and again,” he said.

To address this problem, he said, ICE began to examine Megan’s Law directories, matching its immigration databases to those databases, and rounding up deportable aliens convicted of sexual crimes against children. He described the success rate as “astounding,” adding that the agency quickly recognized “the awful dimension of the child predator problem.”

Besides the high number of alien predators, he said, investigators found “remarkable numbers” of child pornographers on the Internet, human-smuggling organizations trafficking in children for sexual exploitation, and a large number of sex tourists.

“In a way unforeseeable before the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, ICE is coordinating once-fragmented resources and underutilized authorities into a united campaign against those who prey upon our children — drawing on the full range of intelligence, investigative, and detention and removal functions of ICE to target those who exploit children,” Mr. Garcia said.

“Protecting children from these ruthless predators is undoubtedly paramount to our Homeland Security mission,” he said.

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