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Border Patrol agents investigated over ‘disturbing’ Facebook posts ridiculing immigrants, lawmakers

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Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez slammed U.S. CBP after a report of a secret Facebook group that made fun of dead migrants.
USA TODAY

WASHINGTON – The head of the Department of Homeland Security said Wednesday he directed an immediate investigation into “disturbing” and “inexcusable” social media posts allegedly from Border Patrol personnel about lawmakers and immigrants seeking refuge in the USA.

Kevin McAleenan, the acting secretary of the department, tweeted that the statements reported by the online news organization ProPublica “are completely unacceptable.” As the head of the Border Patrol said earlier, any employee found to have posted unacceptable messages “will be held accountable,” McAleenan said.

“They do not represent the men and women of the Border Patrol” or the department, McAleenan said.

According to the ProPublica report, roughly 9,500 current and former Border Patrol agents are part of a secret Facebook group called “I’m 10-15,” a reference to the Border Patrol code for “aliens in custody.” The postings ridicule migrant deaths and Democratic members of Congress.

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McAleenan’s pledge to investigate came after the House Oversight and Reform Committee announced Tuesday a hearing July 12 to question the DHS secretary and Mark Morgan, acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, about conditions at border detention facilities. The department’s inspector general reported Tuesday that conditions were dangerously overcrowded at CBP facilities in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley.

“The Trump administration’s actions at the southern border are grotesque and dehumanizing,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., chairman of the committee.  “There seems to be open contempt for the rule of law and for basic human decency.  The committee needs to hear directly from the heads of these agencies as soon as possible in light of the almost daily reports of abuse and defiance.”

The chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said the workers responsible for “vile comments” shouldn’t work for the federal government.

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A group of lawmakers decried the conditions at the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol station in Clint, Texas following a visit organized by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. (July 1)
AP, AP

“This Facebook group is beyond sexist and racist – it is truly abhorrent and shameful, and there is no excuse for this depraved behavior,” Thompson said. “The chaos within DHS needs to end, and proper leadership needs to be put in place.”

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., called for Morgan’s ouster, saying the inspector general’s report and the Facebook postings “paint a picture of a toxic culture at U.S. Customs and Border Protection that can only begin to be changed by immediately firing and replacing top leadership at the agency.”

“The horrid conditions CBP has subjected children and families to at the border are nothing short of inhumane and downright inexcusable,” Schumer said.

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Democratic members of Congress and the Texas Legislature said Wednesday that the conditions in detention facilities they visited Monday were inhumane.

State Rep. Evelina Ortega said she didn’t see toilet paper, washcloths, soap or toothbrushes in a holding cell where a woman and her two children were isolated because they had the flu.

“There was nothing in the room except those two thin mats and the Mylar coverings,” Ortega said.

U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, said detainees told him they hadn’t received medication for days. Some detainees had gone two weeks without a bath or shower, he said.

“What we’re seeing is willful neglect of these people,” Castro said.

President Donald Trump commended the Border Patrol for doing a “great job” in a series of tweets Wednesday. He said undocumented immigrants in detention were “living far better now” and “in far safer conditions” than in their home countries. He criticized immigration laws and loopholes that he said could be fixed if Democrats would work with him. And he said migrants should come legally “and hopefully through a system based on Merit.”

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  • This image released in a report on July 2, 2019, by the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Inspector General Office (OIG) shows migrant families overcrowding a Border Patrol facility on June 10, 2019, in McAllen, Texas.1 of 6
  • This image released in a report on July 2, 2019, by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Inspector General Office (OIG) shows 88 adult males in a cell for a maximum capacity of 41 overcrowding a Border Patrol facility on June 12, 2019, in Fort Brown, Texas.2 of 6
  • This image released in a report on July 2, 2019, by the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Inspector General Office (OIG) shows migrant families overcrowding a Border Patrol facility on June 11, 2019, in McAllen, Texas.3 of 6
  • This image released in a report on July 2, 2019, by the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Inspector General Office (OIG) shows migrant families overcrowding a Border Patrol facility on June 11, 2019, in Weslaco, Texas.4 of 6
  • A report from government auditors shows images of migrants in overcrowded Border Patrol facilities was released on July 2, 2019. 5 of 6
  • A report from government auditors shows images of migrants in overcrowded Border Patrol facilities was released on July 2, 2019. 6 of 6

Trump referred to members of the Border Patrol as “patriots” and “great people.”

Postings to the Facebook group commented on a visit Monday that Democratic Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Rep. Veronica Escobar of Texas made to migrant detention centers. Members of the group discussed creating a GoFundMe fundraising account for whoever would throw burritos at the two Latina congresswomen, according to ProPublica.

“This isn’t about ‘a few bad eggs,’ ” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted. “This is a violent culture.”

Carla Provost, chief of the Border Patrol, issued a statement Monday that called the postings “highly inappropriate and offensive.” The statements “of these few individuals” could undermine public trust in the Border Patrol, she said.

CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility launched an investigation, in consultation with the department’s inspector general, Provost said.

CBP’s standards of conduct state: “Employees will not make abusive, derisive, profane, or harassing statements or gestures, or engage in any other conduct evidencing hatred or invidious prejudice, to or about one person or group on account of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, age or disability.”

Contributing: Maureen Groppe

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