There have been 70 children rescued after “Operation Lost Souls” entered its second year of operation. The children were found during a three-week operation with Homeland Security Investigations El Paso, the Texas Department of Public Safety and many other local, state and federal agencies.
Operation Lost Soul ran from late April to mid-May and was centered in West Texas. The previous year, Operation Lost Soul located 24 missing children around the same time frame.
Most of the children were located in El Paso, Midland, Ector and Tom Green counties and some were located in the Dallas-Fort Worth area but some children were found in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico and Colorado.
The risk of child trafficking in Texas is heightened by the massive waves of illegal immigrants entering the United States. Many who cross the border aren’t vetted correctly, if at all, and some have committed murder among other crimes.
The Refuge, citing the National Center for Missing and Eploited Children, reported, “In 2020, of the nearly 26,500 missing children reported to NCMEC who have run away, 1 in 6 were likely victims of child sex trafficking.” With the southern border crisis far from handled, children can be of greater risk than anyone else.
HSI El Paso Deputy Special Agent in Charge Taekuk Cho noted that with the COVID-19 pandemic, children are easier to lure away from their home.
Cho said, “You have individuals who due to the pandemic have been unable to go see their friends or travel. When you feel secluded at home, not able to go out and about, they meet people online and go meet with these individuals.”
Cho also said, “It could be a dating site, social media sites such as Tik Tok, Tinder, Snapchat. They meet these individuals not knowing they are trying to bring harm to them.”
This is just another negative outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic and the effect that it’s had on children’s psychology. Not all parents were able to stay home from work which led to many children unsupervised at home.
Jorge Uribarri, Deputy Special Agent in charge of HSI in El Paso, said “Part of our job is to track child exploitation websites. Our undercover officers often go there to find those who attempt to recruit children for sexual exploitation.”
The internet isn’t a safe place for innocent minds. The person you think you trust may be using a fake account with fake pictures and a manufactured personality. Too many children are lured into situations that exploit their good nature and make them victims and fortunately there are operations ongoing to stop it.