WASHINGTON (AFP) - The US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency said on Monday (July 2) that it has launched an investigation into a secret Facebook group for current and former Border Patrol agents that is filled with racist memes and posts mocking migrants.
The existence of the Facebook group called "I'm 10-15" was revealed by the non-profit news site ProPublica. 10-15 is Border Patrol code for "aliens in custody". The group was created in August 2016 and has some 9,500 members, according to ProPublica, which published several examples of posts it found there.
For example, a news story about a 16-year-old Guatemalan who died in Border Patrol custody elicited comments such as "Oh well" and "If he dies, he dies." Members of the group also posted derogatory comments about female Hispanic lawmakers, ProPublica said, including fake photo montages of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the outspoken Democratic congresswoman from New York, engaged in sexual activity.
Border Patrol chief Carla Provost denounced the "inappropriate" posts in the Facebook group and the CBP, which oversees the Border Patrol, said it had launched an investigation.
"These posts are completely inappropriate and contrary to the honour and integrity I see - and expect - from our agents day in and day out," Provost said. "Any employees found to have violated our standards of conduct will be held accountable."
CBP said it had launched a probe after being "made aware of disturbing social media activity hosted on a private Facebook group that may include a number of CBP employees".
Representative Bennie Thompson, a Democrat from Mississippi who chairs the House Committee on Homeland Security, denounced the Facebook group.
"This Facebook group is beyond sexist and racist - it is truly abhorrent and shameful, and there is no excuse for this depraved behaviour," Thompson said in a statement. "The agents found to be responsible for these vile comments should no longer have the privilege of representing the United States of America in uniform."
"It is clear these Federal law enforcement officials seem empowered by President (Donald) Trump and seem all too willing to take his anti-immigrant rhetoric to the next level when they think no one is watching," Thompson said.
Ocasio-Cortez, who has been a frequent critic of the CBP, visited facilities housing migrants along the US-Mexico border on Monday and criticised the Facebook group and the conditions she found there.
"There are 20,000 TOTAL Customs & Border Patrol agents in the US," Ocasio-Cortez said in a message on Twitter linked to the ProPublica article.
"9,500 CBP officers sharing memes about dead migrants and discussing violence and sexual misconduct towards members of Congress," she said. "How on earth can CBP's culture be trusted to care for refugees humanely?" Ocasio-Cortez decried the conditions she found at the CBP facilities she visited.
"It's not just the kids. It's everyone. People drinking out of toilets, officers laughing in front of members of Congress," the congresswoman said.
"This has been horrifying so far," she said. "It is hard to understate the enormity of the problem." "We're talking systemic cruelty w/a dehumanising culture that treats them like animals," she said.
Border Patrol officials have said they are overwhelmed by the numbers of refugees crossing the southern US border.
Arrivals of undocumented migrants have surged in recent months, with 144,000 taken into custody in May alone.