Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) request to join Europol’s Focal Point Checkpoint, which targets human smuggling networks, was unanimously approved Feb. 23.
To officially ink the agreement to join the network, ICE director Sarah R. Saldaña traveled to The Hague this week to formally sign the accord.
Meanwhile, ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) were integral in rescuing 29 sex trafficking victims in Sosua, Dominican Republic following an international undercover law enforcement investigation. Twenty were minors as young as 14 years old.
ICE’s work with Europol’s Operations Department has already led to various successes, such as the seizure of 292 Internet domain names for selling counterfeit products and the recent rescue of a sex abuse victim, ICE said this week.
“I am proud of the relationship ICE has with Europol,” Saldaña said. “Together, we’ve pursued counterfeiters, we’ve hunted child predators and now we will target smugglers intent on threatening the security of both the United States and Europe.”
Europol Director Rob Wainwright said, “ICE joining Europol’s Focal Point Checkpoint is another step in strengthening international police cooperation with ICE and other international partners, as we have to stand together in fighting the increasing emerging threats from organized crime. This agreement with ICE will allow for increased cooperation in the fight against people smuggling, and aid to provide a proactive law enforcement response to this tragic crime”
In continuation of this agreement, ICE will also discuss its future possible participation in the newly established Joint Operations Team (JOT) Mare, a long-term initiative focused on combating irregular migration in the Mediterranean.
ICE is the third US entity to join FP Checkpoint. Customs and Border Protection and the Human Smuggling and Trafficking Center are also participants.
ICE’s latest sex trafficking ring bust in the Dominican Republic involved its HSI Attaché Office in Santo Domingo, the Dominican National Police, the Dominican Republic’s Attorney General’s Human Smuggling and Trafficking in Person’s Unit and the Puerto Plata Prosecutor’s Office conducted the investigation leading up to the rescue.
Twenty of the 29 victims are Dominican minors between the ages of 14 and 17. The remaining nine sex trafficking victims are adults. All of the victims are female.
“As part of the investigation, seven Dominican nationals – two females and five males – were arrested” and are “in local custody where they will serve one year of preventative incarceration while their cases are adjudicated,” ICE said. “Prosecutors allege the traffickers knowingly transported the victims to what they believed was a ‘sex party.’ They also knowingly arranged for the victims to perform sexual services for adults attending the fake party.”
Those arrested include: Rubén Darío Sosa, Luis Manuel Martínez Castillo, Franklin Sánchez García, Rolfi Ismael Ventura, Manuel Emilio Martínez, Idalia Luciano Ferrera and Aniberca Castro Peña.
Law enforcement did not arrest any American citizens as part of this investigation, ICE said.
The US-based nonprofit organizations Operation Underground Railroad and International Justice Mission “dedicated to eradicating the sexual exploitation of children, assisted with the investigation.”
“We commend the government of the Dominican Republic and US law enforcement for their commitment to eradicating the sexual exploitation of human beings,” said US Ambassador to the Dominican Republic James W. Brewster. “It’s unconscionable that people, including children, are being sold for sex in the 21st century. The US government will continue working with our partners both domestically and abroad to bring this evil practice to an end.”
ICE said, “Through its International Operations, HSI has 65 operational attaché offices in 46 countries around the world. HSI special agents work closely with foreign law enforcement agencies through a robust network of specialized, vetted units known as Transnational Criminal Investigative Units. Additionally, HSI brings personnel from host countries to the United States to train at the Department of Homeland Security Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Georgia.”