Federal and local law enforcement officials are searching for at least nine more suspects as part of an illegal trafficking operation that smuggled women from Central America and Mexico into the U.S. to work in brothels across the southeast.
During a one-day sweep in 13 cities and eight states — dubbed “Operation Safe Haven” — U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) led an operation Thursday that resulted in the arrests of 29 people on sex trafficking charges.
“This investigation identified women victimized through fraud, force and coercion, including underage teens,” Special Agent in Charge of HSI Atlanta Nick S. Annan said in a statement. “To the criminals behind these illegal enterprises, these women are just pieces of meat used to pull a quick profit and then discarded or passed on to the next trafficker down the line.”
According to ICE, the arrests were the culmination of an investigation that begin last July in Moultrie, Georgia where agents uncovered an organization that used “independent operators” to traffic women across the U.S-Mexico border to brothels in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas.
The indictment, filed in Georgia, charges six with “conspiracy to participate in the sex trafficking of a minor.” Thirty-eight of the suspects have been charged with “conspiracy to transport a person in interstate commerce for prostitution” and three “customers” have been charged with promoting prostitution.
While 29 people were arrested, nine suspects remain at large.
In conjunction with the arrests, agents also identified 15 people believed to be trafficking victims. Though transported to the U.S. illegally, HSI is assisting them with medical attention, food and shelter. According to ICE, such victims may qualify for a T-visa granted to trafficking victims who assist with the investigation or prosecution.
DHS Sec. Jeh Johnson praised the mission and the collaboration of multiple agencies both federal and local in making the arrests.
“Operation Safe Haven is the first major investigation supported by the Joint Task Force for Investigations (JTF-I) since it became fully operational in July 2015,” Johnson said in a statement. “JTF-I’s sole purpose is to utilize the broad resources of DHS in a combined and coordinated way, in furtherance of border security and law enforcement. Missions like Operation Safe Haven highlight the importance of a unified DHS effort, and show all that we can accomplish by working together.”
Breitbart News has reached out to ICE for the immigration status of the arrested traffickers.