The Trump administration took steps to lessen punishment for Border Patrol agents who made offensive posts as part of a secret Facebook page, including canceling the firings of several employees who insulted members of Congress, according to results of a House investigation released Monday.
At least 60 Border Patrol agents “committed misconduct” with their involvement in the page, but most of them had their punishments reduced by Customs and Border Protection, the Homeland Security agency that oversees the Border Patrol, the House Oversight Committee concluded. And 57 of those agents are still on the job and “continue to work with migrants today,” the report said.
Top lawmakers said Customs and Border Protection knew about the page since 2016, though it only became public after a 2019 report by ProPublica.
“The vile, racist and sexist behavior of border patrol agents exposed in the ‘I’m 10-15’ Facebook group was disgraceful and deserved severe discipline,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.
Among the posts reportedly made on the page was a doctored image of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez engaged in a sex act with a migrant, and plenty of vitriol aimed at her and other members of Congress who were criticizing the Border Patrol amid the 2019 migrant surge.
Offensive descriptions of migrants, such as calling drowning victims “floaters,” were also part of the secret page.
According to the House investigation, one agent involved in posting the explicit doctored image was supposed to be fired but had that penalty reduced to a 60-day suspension, and was awarded back pay. A supervisor who posted an internal video of a migrant falling off a cliff and dying, and posted an offensive comment about a member of Congress, had his firing reduced to a 30-day suspension.
Another agent, who called a drowned child and father “floaters,” and had a “history” of infractions, was allowed to retire with disability benefits rather than be fired, the investigation said.
The page, titled “I’m 10-15” after the Border Patrol radio code for having a migrant in custody, had nearly 10,000 members at its peak, the investigation found.
CBP, in a statement, said it’s already engaged in a search for misconduct under a directive earlier this year by Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
“CBP is working to review policies and to underscore the need to respect the dignity of every individual, fight against discrimination, safeguard civil rights and civil liberties, and increase transparency and accountability,” the agency said.
Oversight Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney said the punishment reductions sent the wrong message about misconduct, and she tied it to the recent series of incidents in Del Rio, Texas, where agents were accused of mistreating Haitian migrants who’d breached the Rio Grande and set up a camp on the U.S. side of the river.
One image of an agent mounted on horseback went viral, with members of Congress saying it showed the agent “whipping” a migrant with the reins. A photographer on the scene said the agent did not whip anyone.
Mr. Mayorkas a month ago promised Congress he would have answers within “days,” though nothing has been publicly released.
Homeland Security, in a statement Monday, said the investigation “is ongoing.”
“The department is committed to a thorough, independent, and objective process. We are also committed to transparency and will release the results of the investigation once it is complete,” the department said.
CBP says it investigated 136 cases of misconduct, involving 135 employees, rising from the Facebook page. It cleared 62 people.
Of the others, four people were fired, though two of them were restored to duty by arbitrators.
Another 42 employees were suspended without pay and four retired. The rest were given reprimands or counseling.