In a press release, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced yesterday that its Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) office in Houston had saved five victims and arrested 46 people for charges relating to human trafficking.
“Forty-six individuals were arrested as a result of the operation, including six arrests for promotion of prostitution, 40 arrests for prostitution and six arrests for narcotics,” the release reads.
“In only four days, and with unprecedented challenges brought on by COVID-19, Operation Patriot took huge strides in eliminating the sex-trafficking trade in our county,” Fort Bend County District Attorney Brian Middleton said. “In only four days, five lives were saved.”
Mary Magness, the HSI special agent in charge of the operation, said the low-level arrests hold as much importance as more prominent stings of organization leaders.
“What we often find is if you only eliminate the supply-side of sex trafficking, another criminal organization will move in to fulfill the demand. So we simultaneously target both the organizations behind the sex trafficking and the people who support it, to more effectively eradicate this vile criminal activity from the community,” Magness said.
“Sex traffickers often rely on physical and sexual abuse, threats of harm, economic and psychological manipulation, and cruelty to force their victims to engage in commercial sex. To better confront these realities of human trafficking, we integrate trauma-informed victim support services throughout our criminal investigation.”
The operation marks the biggest sex trafficking bust ICE has made in Texas this year. Dallas’ HSI office led the effort to take down sex-selling website CityXGuide.com this summer after the site rose to fill the vacuum left by Backpage, the notorious trafficking hub that authorities busted two years ago.
Cooperation between ICE, HSI, the FBI, the North Texas Trafficking Task Force, the Oakridge Police Department, and the Dallas Police Department led to the arrest of the accused head of a large trafficking organization.
The 46 arrests from “Operation Patriot” alone equal nearly a quarter of last year’s arrests relating to human trafficking.
Houston has long been a trafficking hub, with almost half of all Texas tips to the National Human Trafficking Hotline coming out of the greater Houston area. Statisticians have used this hotline data to rank Houston number one in the world for trafficking, leading Travis County to seek trafficking prosecutions more aggressively in recent years.
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