The report of offensive immigration-related material being discussed among a group of people tasked with arresting and caring for migrants drew fresh criticism to the agency, which has been under fire in recent months for its treatment of migrants — especially children. The influx of Central American families across the U.S. southern border has put a strain on CBP operations, and officers have taken on nontraditional roles, such as diapering and feeding infants.
Democratic lawmakers, who have lobbied for better conditions and accountability within Border Patrol facilities, expressed further outrage over the Facebook group days later, after officials revealed that CBP had been aware of the Facebook group before it became public. “Looks like CBP lied,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) tweeted.
Matthew Klein, the assistant commissioner of CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility, said his office has investigated 80 employees during the past three years “involving inappropriate posts from social media.” He said that included three Facebook groups.
Klein, who spoke to reporters Monday, was unable to say what had come of those investigations. The Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) handles investigations of CBP employees and contractors, but disciplinary action is at the discretion of managers and is applied case by case.
The timeline of the 9,500-member Facebook group included recent posts from Border Patrol chief Carla Provost, according to the Intercept. Immediately after news reports about the Facebook group surfaced, Provost said she knew nothing about the group and condemned the offensive content.
Some of the most recent offensive commentary concerned a visit by members of Congress to a Border Patrol station in Clint, Tex., where attorneys had earlier reported seeing children being held in squalid conditions, with limited access to hygiene, nutrition or health care. One post carried an illustration of Ocasio-Cortez performing a sex act at a Border Patrol facility; another portrayed a smiling President Trump pushing the Congresswoman’s face toward his lap.
Klein acknowledged Monday that the OPR had investigated posts in the Facebook group — titled “I’m 10-15”, which is Border Patrol code for “aliens in custody” — as early as January 2018. But he said officials had been unaware of the content currently under investigation before July 1. He declined to confirm Provost’s membership or comment on the identities of any others in the group.
“We don’t actively monitor all these various groups,” he said. Instead, CBP investigates specific allegations of misconduct as they arise, and he said the ongoing investigation of the “I’m 10-15” Facebook group is not related to the previous investigation.
“This particular behavior that we’re looking at now didn’t come to our attention until now,” Klein said. He said his office responded quickly to the allegations, which the more senior Office of the Inspector General at the Department of Homeland Security declined to investigate. “OPR immediately drafted and served a preservation letter” to Facebook to preserve an archive of the content, he said. Investigators also consulted with CBP’s chief counsel to see whether any of the posts amounted to criminal misconduct, he said.
According to CBP policy, “every employee within CBP is required to report allegations of misconduct. Failing to report misconduct is, in and of itself, misconduct,” Michele James, Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the OPR, told reporters Monday.
Pressed on whether that would implicate all of the Facebook group’s members, James and Klein said no: There would need to be evidence that a CBP employee in the group participated enough to demonstrate an awareness of the content.
CBP’s code of conduct bars “notoriously disgraceful conduct” prejudicial to the government, and it instructs employees to “sustain the trust and confidence of the public they serve.” Private Facebook posts and other behaviors outside of the workplace are not immune from scrutiny and could violate the code or U.S. law, he said. “To be clear, the expectation of professional conduct does not end at the end of the shift.”
Klein said the OPR has completed two of the 70 investigations in the two weeks since they started. He said he did not know when the others would conclude, but he expects the number of people under investigation to grow as the evidence is examined.