“Operation Predator,” a law-enforcement initiative by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) targeting pedophiles, international sex tourists, Internet child pornographers and human traffickers, has arrested 6,085 persons — more than eight per day — since it began in July 2003, agency officials said yesterday.
Department of Homeland Security Assistant Secretary Michael J. Garcia, who heads ICE, said the two-year-old program also has accounted for the arrests of more than 1,000 other suspected pedophiles and pornographers by authorities in other countries, working with information from ICE agents in the United States.
“There is nothing more important than protecting our children — the future of our nation,” Mr. Garcia said. “Through Operation Predator, ICE is in a unique position to carry out this critical responsibility.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said that with an average of nearly 250 child sex predator arrests per month, “ICE’s Operation Predator has emerged as one of the most successful efforts ever launched to protect America’s children.
“In enforcing the nation’s immigration laws, ICE is systematically targeting those who pose the greatest threats, including criminal aliens who prey on our children,” Mr. Chertoff said.
ICE spokesman Dean Boyd said that while arrests have been made in every state, the most have occurred in California (1,578), Texas (545), New Jersey (423), New York (367), Illinois (282), Florida (255), Arizona (207), Minnesota (190), Michigan (153) and Oregon (148).
Mr. Boyd said Operation Predator evolved out of ICE’s mission to find and deport illegal aliens, particularly those with criminal records. He said the majority of those arrested — about 85 percent — have involved foreign nationals in this country whose child sex crimes make them removable from the United States.
By matching immigration databases with state Megan’s Law sex-offender directories, Mr. Boyd said, ICE agents have identified and arrested more than 1,800 registered sex offenders. To date, he said, more than 2,100 foreign-born predators have been deported from the United States.
Mr. Boyd also said that drawing on its cybercrime investigative expertise, ICE is targeting those U.S. citizens and foreign nationals who possess, manufacture or distribute child pornography via the Internet.
“Possessing child pornography is a crime; but when those images of abuse are found in the hands of teachers, camp counselors, coaches and clerics, uncovering that crime becomes more urgent,” Mr. Garcia said. “Investigations of those persons who hold positions of trust in the community and trade in these despicable images will remain a priority for this agency.”
Mr. Boyd also said that by working cooperatively with foreign governments through ICE’s attache offices worldwide, agents investigate American citizens who travel abroad to engage in sex with minors. He said ICE also is targeting persons who come to this country to engage in sex with minors.