Earlier this week, an investigation by ProPublica revealed a secret Facebook group where Border Patrol agents mocked migrant deaths, posted sexist memes about legislators, and made racist comments. Since then, Department of Homeland Security acting secretary Kevin McAleenan has said he would investigate the reports.
But it seems that at least some higher ups at Customs and Border Protection have known of the group for years, according to Politico.
Agents apparently first reported images in the group to CBP officials in 2016, a current DHS official told Politico. A former DHS official told Politico that they were aware of the group in the last year. The images shared from the group in 2016 included agents “engaging in conduct that includes simulating sex acts and taking selfies while defecating.”
The officials who spoke to Politico said they weren’t aware of any punishment ever given to any member of the group.
The contents of the group, named “I’m 10-15,” in reference to the code for “aliens in custody,” are disturbing, to say the least. ProPublica reported memes mocking the image of Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his daughter dead in the Rio Grande river last month. There were also threatening and sexist memes about legislators, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rep. Veronica Escobar. The images included one in which Ocasio-Cortez was shown being forced to perform a sex act.
The officials Politico spoke to say that CBP was aware of the group for years and chose to do nothing about it.
“We were not talking about ‘10-15’ as a liability or an asset or as an item of concern,” a former official told Politico. Staffers at CBP apparently used the group “as a source of intelligence” to see “what people are talking about,” the former official said.
The images from the group that were allegedly reported to CBP line up with ProPublica’s description of the group’s tone.
In one screenshot that the current DHS official says was flagged in 2016 to then-Border Patrol Chief Mark Morgan, an agent — carrying a gun in a holster — simulated sex with a training mannequin in the desert. In another, what appeared to be the same agent smiled while holding what appeared to be a human skull. The caption made reference to handling “a little human remains” during canine training. [...]
A third photo showed an agent’s unzipped green pants lowered below his knees while in a squatting position, in what appeared to be a selfie taken while defecating in the Arizona desert, according to the tagged location. The image was flagged to then-Tucson Deputy Chief Patrol Agent Felix Chavez, the current official said.
Morgan and Chavez did not respond to Politico’s requests for comment.
A CBP spokesperson told Politico that images in the group were indeed reported to the agency’s Office of Professional Responsibility, which investigated the reports. The spokesperson said they could not disclose whether disciplinary action had been taken.
“Nobody in government can watch everything that’s being said about an entity in social media,” the former DHS official told Politico. “What gets posted at 5 p.m. today will be buried under thousands of messages tomorrow.”
Former CBP commissioner Gil Kerlikowske told Politico he didn’t remember being notified of the reports in 2016.
Kerlikowske said the images seemed like the kind of thing “you would probably handle at a more local level,” and that “especially the defecation thing seems kind of juvenile.” He added that “it’s still no excuse” for the posts.
DHS has launched an investigation into the group and Facebook has said it is cooperating. House Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings wrote in a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg this week that the posts “appear to violate Facebook’s Community Standards.”
CBP has said that the posts don’t represent their agents. But even former CBP officials were disturbed by the contents of the group.
“If you’re going to joke about dead Hispanic babies and raping members of Congress on Facebook in front of 9,500 of your colleagues,” a former DHS official told Politico, “what are you saying and doing in private?”