NEWARK, NJ: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Newark initiated Operation Limelight USA on June 19, a program designed to bring awareness to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and prevent young girls from being subjected to FGM by informing passengers traveling to FGM 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.
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 pilot program was initiated at JFK International Airport last year and was incredibly successful. HSI has expanded Operation Limelight USA to additional airports around the country, focusing on those airports serving the largest FGM- prevalent diaspora communities. The operation at Newark International Airport met with similar success.
“Our aim here is three-fold regarding this brutal practice,” said Brett Dreyer, assistant special in charge, HSI Newark, and who led the efforts for Operation Limelight at JFK Airport last year and at Newark Airport this year. “Enforcement is a key piece here, but so is outreach and prevention. This is why we have partnered with other government agencies, NGOs and, most importantly, survivors and advocates from the community to share knowledge and resources so we may collectively end this practice.”
FGM is a serious human rights violation, and a gender-specific form of child abuse. This harmful traditional practice negatively affects millions of women and girls around the world, and is concentrated in thirty-one 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 even death.
HSI is in a unique position to engage with the traveling public at U.S. borders and ports of entry to 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 have completed 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, HSI Newark has partnered with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey, NJ state agencies representing children, local health practitioners, community organizations, and survivors in the fight against FGM. These partnerships reflect the necessity for a whole government approach to prevention of FGM.
Federal law, under Title 18 of United States Code (U.S.C.) §116, prohibits individuals from conducting, assisting, attempting or conspiring to conduct FGM in the United States or facilitating the international travel to perform FGM abroad on female children, under age 18. Additionally, 26 states, including New Jersey, have specifically outlawed FGM, and for the remaining 24 states, FGM would fall under existing child abuse statutes.
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 HSI 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 the confidential victim-witness toll-free number at 1-866-872-4973. You can learn more about HSI’s mission to enforce federal laws governing border control, customs, trade and immigration to promote homeland security and public safety at www.ICE.gov.