The Los Angeles Times reported in 2020 that it had learned that just four Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents were fired for their participation in a secret Facebook group where posters shared violent, racist, and just plain vile content, including a post mocking an unaccompanied child who died alone while in U.S. custody.
But according to a report released this week by the House Oversight and Reform Committee, even fewer agents than initially reported by the LA Times actually faced serious consequences for their deplorable actions. The House’s investigation found that of the dozens of agents found to have “engaged in misconduct” related to the Facebook group, only two were fired.
“Documents and information obtained by the committee show that CBP determined that 60 Border Patrol agents engaged in misconduct related to secret Facebook groups during the Trump administration, and were subject to discipline,” a statement said. “However, CBP significantly reduced the punishments imposed on most of these agents.”
That included punishment for one of the agents who posted “obscene and lewd images” in the “I’m 10-15” Facebook group, “which included an explicit graphic and comments” about a member of Congress, the committee’s report said. “The agent posted a picture of a fence containing a hole with a penis and the face of a member of Congress superimposed into the picture. The image had the text, ‘Lucky Illegal Immigrant Glory Hole Special Starring [Name of Member of Congress.]’”
While not named in the report, this member of Congress is almost certainly Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She had been named as of target of the group in ProPublica’s July 2019 report, and was among the Hispanic Caucus legislators who toured a number of Texas border facilities at the time. But the House committee’s report said that while CBP’s Discipline Review Board recommended the agent’s removal, the Border Patrol union (which has ties to white supremacist rag Breitbart) invoked arbitration. The agent not only came back to work, but was awarded back pay for their 60-day suspension.
The report said that despite the Discipline Review Board finding that the 60 agents had “committed misconduct by violating CBP’s Standards of Conduct … CBP reduced proposed disciplinary measures for almost all of these agents, who continue to work with migrants.” In addition to the two firings, 43 were suspended without pay, 12 received letters of reprimand (ooh, scary), and three received “alternate disciplinary actions, such as suspension with pay.” The report said 10 agents retired “before formal disciplinary action was taken.”
One of those agents, identified only as “Border Patrol Agent #9,” posted “among the most explicit and offensive graphics and comments on ‘I’m 10-15,’ including posting a widely circulated picture of a migrant father and son who drowned and referring to them as ‘floaters.’” The Discipline Review Board had recommended this agent’s firing, but the agent filed for—and was approved—for disability retirement before action could be taken. “Disability retirement entitles Border Patrol Agent #9 to a disability annuity, Social Security benefits, and other payments from qualified federal retirement plans,” the report said. This agent had already faced previous “infractions,” the report said.
Meanwhile, the committee report said that dozens “found to have committed misconduct” continue to “work in positions of power over migrants, including families with children.”
“After completing the disciplinary processes, these agents returned to their previous duties working face-to-face with migrant populations at the border, in detention, and throughout inspection and processing,” the report continued. “According to CBP, Border Patrol agents are responsible for ‘[g]uarding our country from illegal activity while providing aid to those in need. It’s mentally and physically challenging and every day requires both courage and compassion.’”
Right. Let’s ask Haitian families recently abused by agents at the southern border if they were treated with courage and compassion. These families said in a civil rights complaint recently filed with the Department of Homeland Security’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties that they were denied access to basics including water, food, and blankets while detained under a bridge. In detention, the complaint says individuals were then deprived of medical attention, leading to at least one miscarriage. But “courage and compassion,” CBP claims.
In a statement, Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney said she was “deeply troubled by CBP’s broken disciplinary process,” adding that “CBP’s failure to prevent these violent and offensive statements by its own agents or impose adequate discipline creates a serious risk that this behavior will continue. As we saw with the mistreatment of migrants by Border Patrol agents in Del Rio, Texas last month, systemic behavior problems within CBP persist.” But Congressional Democrats have the power to do more than be “deeply troubled.” Cut the funding.