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August 23, 2023Baltimore, MD, United StatesPartnership and Engagement

HSI Baltimore teams up with CBP to engage with international travelers in support of Operation Limelight

BALTIMORE — Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Baltimore joined forces with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Baltimore to conduct a two-day outreach operation at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport on Aug. 1 and Aug. 8 in support of Operation Limelight USA.

Special agents from HSI Baltimore and officers from CBP Baltimore embarked on an outreach effort to spread awareness about the practice of female genital mutilation. Operation Limelight USA strives to protect women and girls around the world from the harmful practice of female genital mutilation through education and outreach.

“Sadly, the barbaric practice of female genital mutilation still exists throughout the world,” said HSI Baltimore Special Agent in Charge James C. Harris. “Outreach and education is a necessary tool that gives us the opportunity to communicate directly with travelers as they commute to — or through — many of the places where female genital mutilation is still practiced. Through events like this, we have a chance to save young girls from enduring this horrific abuse and hopefully put an end to this practice.”

Operation Limelight USA was created by HSI’s Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center to reach out and educate the traveling public at international airports and raise awareness that the practice of female genital mutilation is illegal in the United States. It aims to develop leads, where evident, of children traveling from the United States to have female genital mutilation performed.

HSI Baltimore special agents worked in teams with CBP officers to interact with passengers in the jetway and hand out flyers regarding female genital mutilation. The conversations involved gauging the passengers’ awareness of the practice, whether they knew the practice is illegal in the United States, and if they were aware if it was practiced in their country of destination.

Over the two days, HSI personnel focused on three flights destined for Reykjavik and London, with passengers ultimately traveling to multiple countries across the Middle East, Europe, Africa and Asia, where the culturally based and gender-specific practice is common.

HSI Baltimore personnel distributed about 100 female genital mutilation awareness flyers to departing travelers and conducted more in-depth outreach to approximately 610 international passengers, raising awareness on the practice, the U.S. laws governing it, and how to report it to HSI.

As part of the effort, the team encountered multiple community entities — such as nongovernment organizations, missionaries and medical professionals — willing to amplify the message overseas and spread the word that HSI is committed to investigating this type of crime.

The travelers were overwhelmingly appreciative of the agents’ efforts. Most were aware of the practice of female genital mutilation but did not know they were traveling to an area where it was commonplace.

Female genital mutilation is a serious human rights abuse; it is culturally based and gender-specific, and when done to children, it’s a serious form of child abuse. This harmful cultural practice negatively affects millions of girls and women around the world. Female genital mutilation is concentrated in 29 countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, but is illegally practiced in Europe and North America as well.

HSI is the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel, and finance move. HSI’s workforce of more than 8,700 employees consists of more than 6,000 special agents assigned to 237 cities throughout the United States, and 93 overseas locations in 56 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’s largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.