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July 12, 2017New York, NY, United StatesHuman Rights Violators

ICE pilots FGM outreach program at JFK airport

NEW YORK – On June 27, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) New York Border Enforcement Security Taskforce (BEST), with support from HSI’s Human Rights Violators War Crimes Unit (HRVWCU), initiated Operation Limelight USA, a pilot program designed to bring awareness to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and deter its practice through training, outreach and enforcement. This initiative is the U.S.-based version of the United Kingdom’s Operation Limelight at Heathrow Airport conducted by the Metropolitan Police Service and Border Force.

The initiative aims to safeguard and prevent young girls from being subjected to FGM by informing passengers traveling to high-prevalence countries about the U.S. laws governing FGM and the potential criminal, immigration, and child protective consequences of transporting a child to another country for the purpose of FGM. HSI HRVWCU intends to expand Operation Limelight USA to additional airports around the country, focusing on those airports serving the largest FGM- prevalent diaspora communities.

“Performing FGM on a child is a cruel and brutal act. Launching this outreach initiative is a testimony to our steadfast efforts to keep our children safe,” said Angel M. Melendez, special agent in charge of HSI New York. “This is an intrusive and unnecessary practice against young girls and HSI, along with its law enforcement partners, will arrest and prosecute anyone looking to perform the act or transport young girls for such a nefarious procedure.”

HSI is in a unique position to engage with the traveling public at U.S. borders and ports of entry, where the local enforcement operations focus on the prevention of “vacation cutting”, or sending children out of the United States for the purpose of FGM. As part of Operation Limelight USA, special agents who complete FGM-related training speak to passengers flying to or from high-risk countries, offering informational brochures and identifying potential victims and violators of FGM. These discussions both educate passengers on the consequences of involvement in FGM and provide passengers with a means by which to refer cases or receive victim assistance. 

Additionally, the JFK Airport BEST has partnered with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, the Administration for Children’s Services, local health practitioners, community organizations, and survivors to form a working group aimed at preventing and eradicating FGM in their area. These partnerships reflect the necessity for a whole of government approach to prevention of FGM.

FGM is a serious human rights abuse, gender-specific, culturally-based violence and, when done to children, a serious form of child abuse. This harmful traditional practice negatively affects millions of women and girls around the world, and is concentrated in twenty-nine countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. 

FGM provides no health benefits and in fact can cause lifelong consequences including chronic infection, severe complications during childbirth, mental health and death. 

Federal law prohibits individuals from conducting, assisting, attempting or conspiring to conduct FGM in the United States or facilitating the international travel of female children to be cut outside the jurisdiction of the United States. Specifically, 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.

In April 2017, an HSI and FBI joint investigation led to the arrest of a Detroit emergency room physician who was charged with performing FGM on girls who were approximately six to eight years of age. This case, which is being prosecuted out of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan, is the first case of an individual facing prosecution in the United States in violation of 18 U.S.C. §116, which criminalizes FGM.

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