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More than 60 current and eight former Border Patrol employees are under an internal investigation after a report exposed a secret Facebook group where users joked about migrants dying and mocked lawmakers, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials said Monday.
The recently shuttered members-only group, called “I’m 10-15”, which is code used by border officials for "aliens in custody," accrued roughly 9,500 members over three years, according to the July 1 ProPublica report that brought the group to light. It was a platform for current and former Border Patrol agents to share sexist and xenophobic memes without facing repercussions, though the group described itself as a forum where “Old Patrol meets New Patrol,” where posts can be “Funny, serious, and just work related.”
Doctored photos of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a vocal critic of the administration’s detention system, performing oral sex with a detained migrant were among the vulgarities posted on the secret page. In another post, a member joked about chucking a “10-15 burrito at one of these bitches,” referring to Ocasio-Cortez and Rep. Veronica Escobar, members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, when they visited and criticized conditions at Border Patrol facilities in El Paso and Clint, Texas.
Among responses to the 16-year-old Guatemalan migrant who died in Border Patrol custody in May, one person in the Facebook group posted a GIF of the Sesame Street Muppet Elmo with the quote, “Oh well.” Another responded, “If he dies, he dies.”
Users engaged in sexist and racist online conversations were linked to legitimate Facebook profiles belonging to Border Patrol agents, including a supervisor based in El Paso, Texas, and an agent in Eagle Pass, Texas.
The current and first female chief of the Border Patrol, Carla Provost, was reportedly a former member of “I’m 10-15”. But she’d publicly condemned the group before her alleged involvement came to light. “These posts are completely inappropriate and contrary to the honor and integrity I see—and expect—from our agents day in and day out,” she said in a statement when the news broke. “Any employees found to have violated our standards of conduct will be held accountable.”
When the online activity was taken to the Department of Homeland Security’s watchdog agency, it refused to investigate, said Matthew Klein, assistant commissioner of CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility to the Associated Press. However, the internal watchdog agency has called out Border Patrol in the past, for poor conditions at ICE detention facilities.
The CBP is now conducting its own probe. “Messages posted on a private page that are discriminatory or harassing are not protected and violate standards of conduct," said Klein. "To be clear, the expectations of professional conduct don't end at the end of a shift."
After CBP investigators finish identifying current or former employees in the Facebook group’s archives and then interview them, they will then contact Border Patrol to determine an appropriate punishment for the misbehaving employees.
“Currently all of the cases are administrative and not criminal. So far, two cases have concluded and referred to management for adjudication,” said a CBP spokesperson to VICE News.
Cover: In this April 5, 2019, file photo, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection vehicle sits near the wall as President Donald Trump visits a new section of the border wall with Mexico in El Centro, Calif. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)