In an operation led by the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Department of Homeland Security in El Paso, authorities from several law enforcement agencies found and rescued 70 missing children and teenagers in recent weeks.
According to an announcement by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) last week, agents from Texas police departments, public school districts, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies collectively located missing children and teenagers in West Texas, Colorado and Mexico.
Some of the victims, aged 10 to 17 years old, had been part of sex trafficking, and some had also been sexually and physically abused. The children were mostly runaways, though some had been abducted.
“Operation Lost Souls exemplifies Homeland Security Investigations’ commitment to protecting the public from crimes of victimization. In this case, we are looking out for our children – our community’s most precious resource,” said HSI El Paso Deputy Special Agent in Charge Taekuk Cho. “HSI is committed to continue working with our law enforcement partners to locate, recover and help missing children heal, while ensuring that perpetrators are held responsible for these heinous crimes and brought to justice.”
Authorities held a press conference to discuss Operation Lost Souls, during which they did not announce any arrests in the matter, but did say the operation had provided many leads and revealed many individuals who may be involved.
There are an estimated 25 million victims of human trafficking at any given time worldwide, according to to the US State Department. The figure is likely lower than reality because the nature of the crime is so secretive. In the United States, says the State Department, traffickers often compel their victims to work in hospitality, restaurant, caretaker, and other jobs to put them in situations where they can easily be manipulated and ultimately trafficked.
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