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July 21, 2021Las Cruces, NM, United StatesChild Exploitation

Multi-agency operation helps locate, recover 78 missing minors in Southern New Mexico

LAS CRUCES, N.M. — A multi-agency operation, led by U.S. Immigration Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and U.S. Marshals Service (USMS), resulted in the recovery and/or location of 78 missing minors in the past two months in the area.

HSI Las Cruces and the U.S. Marshal’s Service – District of New Mexico in collaboration with the New Mexico State Police, Las Cruces Police Department, Dona Ana County Sheriff’s Office, Anthony Police Department, Sunland Park Police Department, the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department (CYFD), National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), New Mexico Attorney General’s Office (NMAGO) and Deliver Fund, a non-profit organization, initiated Operation Rescue Me on May 1. The enforcement action focused on locating and recovering missing children in Dona Ana County, New Mexico.

“We will remain committed to our mission of protecting the most vulnerable in our communities which include at-risk children who may come from difficult home environments, face homelessness, substance abuse and online enticement. Increased risk factors contribute to a higher number of runaways which can become victims of sexual exploitation and human trafficking,” Erik P. Breitzke, special agent in charge for Homeland Security Investigations El Paso. “HSI will continue to partner with local law enforcement to reduce the number of missing children and educate the community on this increasing problem in our society.” Breitzke’s area of responsibility includes Southern New Mexico and West Texas.

“This initiative to locate and rescue missing children addresses our most vulnerable population and will remain one of the priorities of the United States Marshals Service,” said Sonya K. Chavez, U.S. Marshal for the District of New Mexico. “The results of this operation are an example of the strong law enforcement partnerships and collaboration between many agencies and this is a key component in addressing this critical area.”

The minors ranged in age from 5 to 18.

As a result of the operation:

  • Three minors were recovered
  • 75 minors were located
  • Two minors remain outstanding
  • The minors recovered and located were offered services that help identify the potential exploitation of at-risk children

During the two-month operation, law enforcement located a minor residing in Mexico; two investigations were initiated for child sexual abuse by relatives or friends of immediate family; one investigation was initiated for human trafficking by HSI Deming.

The operation, which began in May with a list of 80 minors, is ongoing.

Recovered minors are minors who were active in the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) system as missing and/or runaways. They were returned to their guardian or CYFD and removed from the NCIC system.

Located minors had open cases with local agencies, some were active in NCIC and others were not. The minors either returned voluntarily to their guardian or were located with friends or relatives, after which local law enforcement agencies closed their open missing minor investigations to allow them to focus resources on other investigative matters.

HSI encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free Tip Line at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE or by completing its online tip form. Both are staffed around the clock by investigators. From outside the U.S. and Canada, callers should dial 802-872-6199. Hearing impaired users can call TTY 802-872-6196.

HSI takes a victim-centered approach to child exploitation investigations by working to identify, rescue and stabilize victims. HSI works in partnership with the NCMEC, ICAC partners, and other federal, state, and local agencies to help solve cases and rescue sexually exploited children. Suspected child sexual exploitation or missing children may be reported to NCMEC’s toll-free 24-hour hotline, 1-800-THE-LOST.

HSI is a founding member of the Virtual Global Taskforce, an international alliance of law enforcement agencies and private industry sector partners working together to prevent and deter online child sexual abuse.

HSI is the principal investigative arm of DHS and a vital U.S. asset in combatting transnational crime and threats. One of HSI’s top priorities is to protect the public from crimes of victimization, and HSI’s child exploitation investigations program is a central component of this mission set. HSI is recognized as a global leader in this investigative discipline, and is committed to utilizing its vast authorities, international footprint and strong government and non-government partnerships to identify and rescue child victims, identify and apprehend offenders, prevent transnational child sexual abuse and help make the internet a safer place for children.

To report a crime, call 866-347-2423 (TTY for hearing impaired: 802-872-6196).