July 2 (UPI) — U.S. Customs and Border Protection has launched an investigation into reports of a secret Facebook group of thousands of former and current border agents where they made jokes about the deaths of migrants and racist comments about Latino members of Congress.
On Monday, ProPublica reported graphic screenshots from the 3-year-old group, which has roughly 9,500 members, including a supervisor based in El Paso, Texas, where the government employees made derogatory, racist and sexist remarks.
In one screenshot from a conversation in the group called “I’m 10-15,” which is agency code of “aliens in custody,” members discussed throwing burritos at Reps. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., Congress members of Latino descent, who were visiting a controversial Texas detention facility Monday while referring to them by a sexist epithet.
U.S. Border Patrol Chief Carla Provost said the posts were “completely inappropriate and contrary to the honor and integrity I see — and expect — from our agents day in and day out.”
She said any employees who have violated the agency’s standards of conduct “will be held accountable.”
Matthew Klein, assistant commissioner to the Office of Professional Responsibility at CBP, said employees are prohibited from making abusive, profane or harassing comments about individuals or groups based on race, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, age or disability.
“This includes comments and posts made on private social media,” he said.
He said CBP has contacted the Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General and initiated an investigation.
CBP has roughly 20,000 Border Patrol Agents charged with patrolling the United States’ borders and has come under criticism for alleged mistreatment of children, among other allegations.
News of the Facebook group comes on the day Ocasio-Cortez, Escobar and other politicians made a planned visit to the Clint, Texas, detention center that made headlines last week over the unsanitary conditions it was housing migrant children in.
A screenshot from the Facebook group of discussion on the planned trip shows an agent referring to them as “hoes” and another as “scum buckets.”
ProPublica reported the most disturbing comments within the Facebook group were directed at Ocasio-Cortez.
Ocasio-Cortez said via Twitter that if they are threatening violence against members of Congress, “how do you think they’re treating caged children and families?”
“This isn’t about ‘a few bad eggs,’ ” she said. “This is a violent culture.”
During the tour, she said officers were laughing at members of Congress and forcing detained migrants to drink out of toilets.
“I brought it up to their superiors. They said, ‘officers are under stress and act out sometimes,’ ” she said.
The National Border Patrol Council, the union for CPB agents, said it does not condone the behavior of those agents who posted inappropriate content in the Facebook group but it does not reflect all its agents.
“The men and women of the U.S. Border Patrol are by and large professional law enforcement officers who only want to do their job — to have a small minority of Facebook group members tarnish that image is unfortunate and embarrassing,” the union said in a press release.
The union, though while condemning the comments made against Ocasio-Cortez, said she does nothing to “improve the political discourse” by referring to CBP facilities as concentration camps.
The union said it has spoken to agents “about the need to be professional while on social media and that posting material that is inappropriate and unacceptable does great harm to the reputation of the Border Patrol.”