By CURT ANDERSON, The Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) --
An international investigation into child sex crimes and pornography has resulted in more than 1,000 arrests since its inception July 9, U.S. federal authorities said Friday.
The crackdown has brought arrests in nearly every state and most major U.S. cities, said Michael J. Garcia, director of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency of the Homeland Security Department.
The latest arrests came this week in South Florida, where 56 foreigners who had been convicted of crimes involving children were apprehended over three days in Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. These aliens, from 18 countries, will be deported, officials said Friday.
Among those charged in the broader probe, dubbed "Operation Predator," are U.S. citizens who traveled abroad to have sex with minors, people who allegedly molested mentally impaired children and people who smuggled foreign children into the United States to work as prostitutes, Garcia said.
The largest number of arrests, about 400, were on charges of manufacturing or distributing child pornography on the Internet.
"The goal of Predator is to get these people off the streets and we're doing that," Garcia told reporters.
Those charged include a California middle-school teacher, a man who smuggled child prostitutes from Mexico to New Jersey, a Baltimore summer camp worker who molested three sisters and several men who used the Internet to lure children into sexual encounters.
ICE was formed earlier this year as the largest law enforcement arm of the new Homeland Security Department, with some 15,000 personnel including customs and immigration agents and officials who protect government buildings worldwide.
Although the FBI and other agencies also investigate child sex crimes, Garcia said Operation Predator demonstrates ICE's capabilities even though it is still getting organized. Other priorities for the agency are money laundering, drug interdiction, capture and deportation of illegal immigrants and illegal weapons smuggling.
"We work with the FBI. But we have our own expertise and we're using it," Garcia said.
Many of the arrests in Operation Predator resulted from citizen tips, with a large portion also coming through investigation of Internet usage, Garcia said. The investigation was coordinated internationally by the ICE Cyber Crime Center in Fairfax, Va.
In addition, ICE agents apprehended a number of suspects by checking lists of known sex offenders against its files of illegal immigrants, many of whom have been deported.
Garcia said that ICE also is launching a public awareness campaign about the child sex tourism industry, estimated to victimize 2 million children around the world.