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Border Patrol Agents Who Posted in Violently Racist, Sexist Private Facebook Group Faced Basically No Consequences, Congress Finds

U.S. Border Patrol agents watch as Haitian immigrant families cross the Rio Grande from Mexico into Del Rio, Texas

Back in 2019, journalistic watchdog ProPublica published an exposé revealing the disturbing contents of a private Facebook group for Border Patrol agents.

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The group had about 9,500 members—nearly half the number of Border Patrol agents in the country. The agents regularly posted disgusting, violent, racist memes and messages, mocking the deaths of immigrants and asylum-seekers in custody, joking about throwing burritos at Latinx lawmakers, and posting illustrations and photoshopped images of Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez performing oral sex on Donald Trump and on immigrants.

More than two years later, a new report from the House Committee on Oversight and Reforms shows what sorts of consequences these agents faced, and they were basically nonexistent.

The committee’s investigation found that 60 Customs & Border Protection (CBP) agents were subject to discipline based on their egregious misconduct. But nearly all of those agents had their punishments “significantly reduced” from the recommendations made by the CBP Discipline Review Board. Eighteen agents whom the board recommended removing from their positions were, in the end, only temporarily suspended, some with pay. Twelve merely received disciplinary letters.

Those who were merely suspended included an agent who “posted a sexually explicit doctored image and derogatory comments about a Member of Congress,” an agent who posted a video of a migrant falling off a cliff to their death, and an agent with “a history of multiple infractions” who posted a photo of a drowned father and son with a comment referring to them as “floaters.” That last agent was allowed to retire with benefits. The first two were suspended for 60 and 30 days, respectively.

Of the 60 agents found to have engaged in misconduct, only two were removed from their positions. 57 of them still work with migrants today. (One is an investigator who doesn’t work with migrants.)

Some of the committee’s findings are meant to give a bit of insight into the why of this Facebook group, and they’re all infuriating. Congress found that CPB gave its agents insufficient social media training, although if you need training to tell you “don’t be racist,” your job probably shouldn’t be centered around working with immigrants and asylum seekers.

Similarly, the report says CBP agents have “low morale” and use the Facebook group to vent. But again, if your “venting” manifests as racist misogyny, violent sexualization of Latina women, and mocking the deaths of immigrants, this is not a job you should have.

It is entirely unsurprising that we have continued to see violent behavior from CBP, like the horrific recent images of agents on horseback, LARPing plantation overseers, rounding up Haitian migrants using their reins as whips.

While the Facebook group was outed and the investigation began during Trump’s presidency, Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney noted in a press release that “systemic behavior problems within CBP persist.” Moreover, many of the agents who were disciplined have been with the agency for more than a decade. Trump may have exacerbated this kind of horrible behavior and given tacit permission for it to flourish, but he did not create it himself.

The committee made a number of recommendations, including better social media training, addressing morale issues, and reforming the hiring process to screen for applicants with a history of complaints made against them. I suppose, being Congress, they couldn’t reasonably suggest the only recommendation likely to actually produce any substantial changes, which is to break the entire institution down into tiny pieces and fire them directly into the sun.

(image: John Moore/Getty Images)

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Vivian Kane
Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.

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