US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced on May 27 that an undercover operation targeting commercial human trafficking, including sex trafficking, led to the arrest of 43 people.
The operation, in which officials worked alongside Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), was dubbed “Spring Fling” and targeted suspected sexual predators in Arizona, focusing on hotel prostitution and prostitution enforcement streets, ICE said in a press release.
HSI joined the Scottsdale Police Department’s Human Trafficking and Exploitation Unit (HEaT) and the Phoenix, Mesa, Tempe, Gilbert, and Surprise Police Departments, as well as the University Police Department of Arizona State for the operation.
A total of 43 people were arrested for crimes that included child sex trafficking, prostitution, drug charges and misconduct involving weapons.
Officials said the suspects allegedly solicited or negotiated deals for various sex acts before being apprehended. The majority of those arrested were charged with prostitution.
These latest arrests come shortly after law enforcement was able to locate and recover 70 missing children, most of them in West Texas, following a three-week, multi-agency operation.
Known as “Operation Lost Souls,” the police action took place from late April to mid-May in El Paso, Midland, and Ector and Tom Green counties in Texas.
The missing children were between the ages of 10 and 17 and were victims of sex trafficking and physical and sexual abuse. Many of them were runaways.
Although the majority of the children were in West Texas, some were also recovered from the Dallas-Fort Worth area, as well as Colorado State and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Agencies provided victim services and counseling to recovered children and their families.
“Operation Lost Souls exemplifies Homeland Security Investigations’ commitment to protecting the public from crime victimization. In this case, we are taking care of our children – our community’s most precious resource,” said Deputy Special Agent in Charge of HSI El Paso, Taekuk Cho.
“HSI is committed to continuing to work with our law enforcement partners to locate, recover, and help heal missing children, while ensuring that perpetrators are held accountable for these heinous crimes and brought to justice. justice.
According to the latest data from the National Human Trafficking Hotline (NHTH), 10,583 cases of human trafficking were reported in the United States in 2020, of which sex trafficking marked the highest number of cases.
The International Labor Organization estimates that there are 24.9 million victims of human trafficking and exploitation worldwide, with women and girls accounting for 99% of victims in the sex industry.
In February 2022, Attorney General Merrick B. Garland announced the release of the Department of Justice’s new National Anti-Trafficking Strategy, which aims to strengthen the department’s ability to prevent trafficking and prosecute criminals. trafficking cases while supporting and protecting victims and survivors.
As part of this strategy, the DOJ will establish federally-funded, locally-led human trafficking task forces across the country, pay greater attention to human trafficking investigations, implement new victim screening protocols to identify potential victims of human trafficking and strengthen coordination efforts among federal law enforcement officers nationwide. .