The FBI has recovered more than 200 victims of human trafficking in a nationwide sting operation known as “Operation Cross Country”, federal agents announced Tuesday.
During a two-week operation to battle exploitation, the agency found 59 victims of child sex trafficking and child sexual exploitation and 59 missing children.
“Sex traffickers exploit and endanger some of the most vulnerable members of our society and cause their victims unimaginable harm,” Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said in a statement.
The operation was in collaboration with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). Agents were able to identify or arrest at least 126 suspects facilitating child sexual exploitation, along with 68 suspected human traffickers.
“Human traffickers prey on the most vulnerable members of our society, and their crimes scar victims – many of them children – for life. The FBI’s commitment to combatting this threat will never waver, and we will continue to send our message that these atrocities will not be tolerated,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray.
He continued, “This operation would not be possible without the commitment and collaboration from our state and local law enforcement partners, and it demonstrates our continued focus on actively pursuing the criminals responsible for these heinous violations and connecting those impacted with dedicated victim services and resources.”
According to officials, the youngest person found was 11 years old, with the average age being 15 years old.
This recovery operation comes as President Biden has been under fire with critics saying his administration has essentially allowed an open border policy that has fueled human trafficking. Thousands of undocumented minors have been brought into the U.S. without an accompanying family member. Reports indicate more than 85,000 undocumented children are now missing and unaccounted for inside the U.S.
One study estimated that 60% of unaccompanied migrating children are caught by cartels and exploited through child pornography and drug trafficking.
At a recent Energy and Commerce Committee hearing, Rep. Kat Cammack (R-FL) questioned Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra on how the Biden administration is handling the crisis.
Rep. Cammack: Do you see this jar?
Sec. Becerra: It looks like candies or snacks.
Rep. Cammack: These are wristbands the cartels force people to wear when they cross the border. If you’re not wearing one when you cross, the cartels will take a limb, like an arm or leg. pic.twitter.com/QSB5dFyAf7
— Rep. Cammack Press Office (@RepKatCammack) July 26, 2023
The FBI states “Operation Cross Country” is just one facet of the Bureau’s ongoing efforts to protect the trafficking victims.
“Behind every statistic, there is a person with dreams, aspirations, and the right to live a life free from child sex trafficking and exploitation. As a society we must work together to ensure the protection, support, and empowerment of those impacted by this heinous crime,” said NCMEC President & CEO Michelle DeLaune. “We applaud the FBI and their partner law enforcement agencies for their unwavering dedication to protecting children. Their tireless efforts in combating crimes against children send a powerful message that child sexual exploitation will not be tolerated.”