Top Border Officials Condemn ‘Highly Inappropriate’ Secret Facebook Group

Top Border Officials Condemn ‘Highly Inappropriate’ Secret Facebook Group

WASHINGTON — Top officials in the agency overseeing border security condemned a secret Facebook group for current and former Border Patrol agents that featured jokes about migrant deaths, obscene images of Hispanic lawmakers and threats to members of Congress as the lawmakers themselves on Tuesday amplified their criticism of the agency.

Carla Provost, the chief of the Border Patrol, sent an email to her agents describing the posts in the group as “highly inappropriate and offensive.” The Customs and Border Protection agency’s Office of Professional Responsibility and the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general began an independent investigation into the posts, Ms. Provost said.

“The men and women of the U.S. Border Patrol are under immense pressure every day as you manage the crisis on our border,” Ms. Provost said in the letter, which the Department of Homeland Security made available on Monday night. “But let me be clear: There is absolutely no excuse for this kind of inappropriate behavior — on or off duty, publicly or privately.”

She said any agents identified as writing the posts would be held accountable. ProPublica reported the existence of the secret Facebook group just as Democratic lawmakers toured Border Patrol facilities in Clint and El Paso, Tex., on Monday.

In a series of tweets on Tuesday, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a New York Democrat who was a target of some of the most offensive posts in the group, described Customs and Border Protection as a “rogue agency.”

“I can’t understate how disturbing it was that CBP officers were openly disrespectful of the Congressional tour,” Ms. Ocasio-Cortez tweeted. “If officers felt comfortable violating agreements in front of their *own* management & superiors, that tells us the agency has lost all control of their own officers.”

She also pointed the finger at members of Congress who signed off on the Senate’s $4.6 billion humanitarian aid package for the border, which exposed division in the Democratic Party. Ms. Ocasio-Cortez and other more liberal Democrats wanted the bill to include stronger protections for migrant children.

“They just wrote a multi-billion dollar blank check for misconduct,” Ms. Ocasio-Cortez said.

That “blank check” is forming the backdrop for the escalating battle on the border. House Democrats had wanted to attach strict conditions on the humanitarian funding being rushed to the Departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services.

Under a House bill, facilities that housed unaccompanied children would have had a slightly shorter time frame — 12 months instead of 14 — to meet existing legal standards for healthy, sanitary and humane conditions than under the measure President Trump signed into law. They also would have had to allow oversight visits from members of Congress without warning, and the Department of Health and Human Services would have had to report a child’s death in its custody to Congress within 24 hours.

Liberal Democrats in the House also wanted to ban for-profit companies from running migrant shelters and scrap funding for the United States Marshals specifically geared toward referring people who entered or re-entered the country illegally for criminal prosecution. They also wanted stronger prohibitions against sharing the immigration records of people who come forward to take custody of unaccompanied migrant children.

But facing divisions within her party, Speaker Nancy Pelosi gave up on those provisions last week and passed the less restrictive Senate measure, infuriating many of the House Democrats who toured the border facilities this week.

At a news conference after the tour on Monday, the lawmakers detailed horrid conditions for the migrants, including in a Border Patrol facility in Clint that has become the subject of public backlash in recent weeks after a team of lawyers who spoke to migrants at the facility reported that children had gone unfed and unwashed while detained.

Ms. Ocasio-Cortez said that she had spoken to one migrant who had been forced to drink water out of a toilet, an assertion backed by two other House Democrats, Judy Chu of California and Joaquin Castro of Texas.

Mr. Castro released footage from inside the Clint facility that he said in a tweet “captures what it’s like for women in CBP custody to share a cramped cell — some held for 50 days — for them to be denied showers for up to 15 days and life-saving medication.”

Kellyanne Conway, the counselor to the president, denounced “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez going down to one of these facilities and making this outrageous claim that a woman’s drinking from a toilet, which everybody who has control over that facility, or control for the Border Patrol has said that’s not true.”

Last week the acting secretary of homeland security described allegations that children in the Clint facility had gone unfed and unwashed as “unsubstantiated” and the facility itself as “clean and well managed.”

Robert E. Perez, the deputy commissioner for Customs and Border Protection, said he was “very confident” his agents were providing fresh water, food and hygiene products to migrants in Border Patrol custody. His agents are overwhelmed, he said, because of a record number of families crossing the border, which has filled facilities built for short-term detention.

“We take any and every allegation of misconduct incredibly seriously,” Mr. Perez said on CNN. “And there will be consequences to those who do not adhere to our standards of conduct.”

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