WASHINGTON — Border Patrol Chief Carla Provost said Wednesday that she knew nothing about the existence of a racist, vulgar Facebook posts in a group for agency officers — even though she's been a member of since 2017.
At a hearing before the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday, Provost called the posts “highly offensive and absolutely unacceptable,” and referred to the people who uploaded them as “a few bad apples.”
ProPublica first reported about the existence of the posts, one of which was a fabricated illustration of New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez engaging in oral sex with a detained migrant, on July 1. The posts included numerous racist slurs targeted at migrants and congresswomen of color.
There were roughly 9,500 members of the Facebook group, ProPublica reported. There are about 20,000 Border Patrol agents in the U.S.
Provost added that she placed a number of the Border Patrol officers involved on administrative duties, and that the entire agency would undergo social media training by the close of the fiscal year, which ends in September.
Provost’s comments were the most extensive to date about her knowledge of the material. At the urging of Homeland Security Subcommittee Chairwoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.), Provost said that she initially joined the group in the summer of 2017 after a colleague invited her to it.
“They had mentioned to me that in my acting role as chief that some of the agents were discussing how I was doing, and it was something I was certainly interested in knowing — how I was representing my workforce. I didn’t think anything of it at the time.”
“I’m on Facebook very, very rarely,” Provost said. She said that she uses the site only “occasionally,” to answer instant messages and “now and again, to try to see how my work force feels I am doing.”
Provost told Roybal-Allard that as soon as she saw the report, she “put an announcement out to the workforce condemning the actions of those individuals. It is completely unacceptable, and not representative of the Border Patrol as a whole.”
Provost also said that she “self-reported” her membership to the group to the Office of Professional Responsibility, and gave officers there the login information to her personal Facebook account.
“In their assessment, from June 2018 through June of 2019, I logged onto Facebook on nine different days,” she said. “I am as outraged as everyone else when it comes to the statements that were made on that page.”
Roybal-Allard, for her part, said after Provost’s testimony that “it appears there is a subculture among agents that has been allowed to propagate because the agency has been too tolerant of this small but pervasive subculture,” the chairwoman said.
But Provost pushed back against the chairwoman’s assertion that the behavior modeled in that group was widespread at the agency. “We need to hold them accountable, and we will do that,” she said.
Cover: Carla Provost, chief of the U.S. Border Patrol, swears in to a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, May 8, 2019. (Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)