Special Agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) this week brought Operation Limelight USA, a pilot program designed to bring awareness to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and deter its practice, back to Washington Dulles International Airport for the second time.
Operation Limelight USA is a program designed by HSI’s Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Unit to bring awareness to FGM and deter its practice through the education of the public about the relevant risks.
From June 12-13, specially trained agents distributed educational material to travelers, and made themselves available for questions and conversation with individuals who represented a wide range of understanding about the issue.
Agents engaged approximately 700 individuals in the international terminal destined for Dubai, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Cairo and San Salvador. Approximately 40% of passengers were traveling with children. Flight crew and airline employees in the international areas were also provided materials for additional outreach.
While some individuals had never heard of FGM, others were familiar, and some identified themselves to agents as activists or other specialists who work with FGM victims in the United States and abroad.
“What has been and continues to be a traumatizing ritual for some, is in fact a codified human rights violation,” said Raymond Villanueva, special agent in charge of HSI Washington, D.C. “HSI continues to work to ensure that the traveling public remains educated and aware of the dangers and health risks, as well as the criminal penalties, associated with this detestable and illegal practice.”
It is a federal crime both to practice this human rights atrocity in the U.S., as well as to transport a minor outside the U.S. to have this practice performed elsewhere. Title 18 of United States Code (U.S.C.) §116, prohibits the knowing circumcision, excision, or infibulation in whole or in part of the labia majora, labia minora, or clitoris of a person under 18 years. Section (d), which was enacted in 2013, prohibits the transportation of a minor for FGM. Additionally, §116 only applies to victims under the age of 18, but some state statutes criminalizing FGM apply to all persons, regardless of age.
FGM provides no health benefits and in fact can cause lifelong consequences including chronic infection, severe complications during childbirth, mental health and death.
Members of the public who have information about individuals suspected of engaging in human rights abuses, to include FGM, are urged to call the ICE tip line at – 1-866-DHS-2423 (1-866-347-2423). Callers may remain anonymous. To learn more about the assistance available to victims in these cases, the public should contact ICE’s confidential victim-witness toll-free number at 1-866-872-4973.You can learn more about ICE’s mission to enforce federal laws governing border control, customs, trade and immigration to promote homeland security and public safety at www.ICE.gov.