HARLINGEN, Texas — Federal, state and local law enforcement officials kicked off a new joint task force in the Rio Grande Valley aimed at fighting the rising threat against children from sexual predators. Arrests of sex offenders, including previously deported illegal alien sex offenders has been on the increase across this border region.
Representatives from the various agencies gathered at the Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) offices to announce the Rio Grande Valley Child Exploitation Investigations Task Force. The various agencies will join forces under HSI to address online as well as other crimes where children are victimized.
“Predators in our community should know that the next time they attempt to entice our children online they may be speaking instead to a member of our task force; and we will find you,” said Shane Folden, Special Agent In Charge in San Antonio for Homeland Security Investigations.
Teaming up the investigative and prosecutorial capabilities of the various agencies gives task force officers the ability to target predators wherever they may be. Task force officers will be able to prosecute the cases in federal or state court depending on the case. While online predators play a big role, authorities will also target other forms of child exploitation including human trafficking.
The location of the predators could place an obstacle to some agencies if the predator is in another country. By pooling resources, the task force officers have more opportunities to hunt them down.
“Homeland Security Investigations has an international presence and we are ready to leverage whatever assets we need to bring these individuals to justice,” said HSI Assistant Special Agent in Charge Kevin Benson.
In 2015, HSI agents in South Texas worked about 100 cases that led to 53 arrests, Benson said.
In the past, a parent gathered his children in the evening, locked the doors and could feel safe, that has now changed with the advancement of technology, said Cameron County District Attorney Luis Saenz.
Holding up a smart phone, Saenz said, “Nowadays with this, you could have a sexual predator right in your living room or in your child’s bedroom and not know about it.”
Of particular concern to Saenz is the fact that predatory behavior tends to escalate. Depending on the individuals, an offender that starts with child porn, over time could end up escalating matters to kidnapping, rape and murder.
“We have too many,” Saenz said when asked about the more than 200 cases that his office is prosecuting.