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Border Patrol agents’ Facebook comments show deeper problem

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Border Patrol agents with Customs and Border Protection, an agency already under scrutiny for how it treats migrants trying to receive asylum in the United States, gave the agency a major black eye with the public release of what had been a private Facebook group.

ProPublica, a nonprofit news organization, gained access to the Facebook group called, “I’m 10-15,” which refers to the Border Patrol code for “aliens in custody.” It includes comments from current and former agents. ProPublica was able to trace many of the comments on the page back to personal Facebook pages it verified as belonging to agents.

At the private page, agents were found engaging in slurs and insults of the migrants they deal with, trading in sexist and dehumanizing language and images and targeting members of U.S. Congress.

Border Patrol Chief Carla Provost said in an email to the media the posts were “completely inappropriate and contrary to the honor and integrity I see — and expect — from our agents day in and day out.” She said she would hold accountable any employee who violated the agency’s standards.

Those are nice words and we expect a thorough review at minimum. But Provost must know, and if she does not, someone should tell her, the tone reflected in these Facebook exchanges goes beyond a few bad apples. It suggests there may be something disturbing and unaddressed within the Border Patrol environment. This is something that will require a hard look at the existing command that directs and trains these agents.

Without a doubt a sensitive area for Border Patrol, or at least one that should be sensitive, is migrants who die while in agents’ custody — so far at least 11 in the last 10 months — or who die while trying to come to America.

Yet agents joked about those deaths in the Facebook group, including a series of dismissive remarks about a 16-year-old Guatemalan boy who died in Border Patrol custody in May. One person posted the viral image of the father, Oscar Alberto Martínez, and his 23-month-old daughter, Angie Valeria, from El Salavador, who drowned in the Rio Grande crossing from Mexico into Texas. A person on the Border Patrol facebook group speculated the tragedy had been fake because the bodies of the migrants were so “clean,” reports ProPublica.

A number of agents posted negative comments ahead of a visit to a Border Patrol facility outside El Paso, Texas, by Democratic Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Rep. Veronica Escobar of Texas. Particular ire was focused on the outspoken Ocasio-Cortez, who has compared Border Patrol facilities that house migrants to concentration camps. At the 10-15 page, she was cast in several fake, graphic sexual images, including one involving Donald Trump. Agents were encouraged by another poster to throw burritos at the pair.

After her visit, Ocasio-Cortez tweeted that the Facebook page showed a “violent culture” within Border Patrol.

While some have sought to make the issue about whether or not they agree with Ocasio-Cortez on immigration, it’s broader.

“These comments and memes are extremely troubling,” Daniel Martinez, a sociologist and professor in Arizona who studies the border, told ProPublica. “They’re clearly xenophobic and sexist.”

The Facebook group is three years old and has 9,500 members. With that many members, it’s a fair assumption that a sizable portion of the Border Patrol’s nearly 20,000 agents participate in the page, at least passively. It is also not a great leap to assume if agents hold such dim views of migrants, ill treatment inevitably follows — especially with the fate of the migrants often entirely in the hands of agents at the border or in holding facilities.

A number of acts of migrant abuse have been alleged by human rights organizations, journalists and members of Congress, including of agents keeping migrant children in unsanitary conditions and administering inadequate medical care. Recently, the Office of the Inspector General, part of the Department of Homeland Security, released a report alleging severe overcrowding and long detentions of migrant children at Border Patrol facilities, with shocking photos that showed the cramped conditions.

We expect some agents to be fired after this major setback for the Border Patrol. But if it stops there, and the culture is left unaddressed, we will not have gotten very far in ensuring people on the front lines of the migrant crisis are upholding the American values we all share.

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