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CBP found 60 cases of misconduct in Border Patrol agents' Facebook postings. Just two were fired

A Customs and Border Patrol agent posted on Facebook about an infamous 2019 image of a father and son whose bodies washed up on the U.S.-Mexico border. In the post, he called them "floaters."

He was allowed to retire with disability, a new report released Monday by the House Oversight and Reform Committee found.

This was one of 60 cases cited in a sweeping investigation by the Democratic-controlled committee of Customs and Border Protection agents who committed "serious misconduct" by sharing explicit and violent messages such as these on secret Facebook pages. Only two were ultimately fired. 

The investigation revealed "a number of failings at CBP, including an inconsistent disciplinary process, a failure to train on and enforce social media policies, and senior leadership's failure to take appropriate actions despite knowledge of these Facebook groups," according to the report.

Vice President Harris Tours El Paso Border Patrol Station
An agents wears a U.S. Customs and Border Protection badge during a tour of a facility in El Paso, Texas, on Friday, June 28, 2021. Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Bloomberg via Getty Images

"CBP will not tolerate hateful, misogynist, or racist behavior or any conduct that is unbecoming of the honor we hold as public servants," a CBP spokesperson said in a statement to CBS News. "DHS, including CBP, is participating in an internal review as directed by Secretary Mayorkas to identify and terminate intolerable prejudice, and to reform policies and training.  CBP is working to review policies and to underscore the need to respect the dignity of every individual, fight against discrimination, safeguard civil rights and civil liberties, and increase transparency and accountability."

Investigators examined 135 cases of alleged misconduct on Facebook linked to CBP employees. In total, two individuals were fired, while 43 were suspended without pay, 12 were granted letters of reprimand, 11 received warnings, and three were suspended without pay or received another form of discipline. Ten personnel retired prior to the investigation's end.

"Most of the 60 agents who committed misconduct received reduced penalties, and 57 of them continue to work with migrants today," the report found. "The vast majority of agents—including those who made degrading and even threatening comments about migrants—received only minor discipline," it later added.  

Some of the other instances included a CBP supervisor who posted an internal CBP video of a migrant falling off a cliff to their death. The supervisor faced removal, but upon agency review, received only a 30-day suspension.

"Do the gators have CBP serial numbers on them for inventory purposes?" one Border Patrol agent posted during a discussion of stocking the Rio Grande River with alligators and sharks to prevent migrants from entering the United States. The official received a "letter of reprimand."

Officials still at work also include a Border Patrol agent who posted a "sexually explicit doctored image and derogatory comments" about a member of Congress and was subsequently issued a 60-day suspension and awarded back pay, despite a recommendation from the discipline board that he be removed.

Though only two were ultimately removed, CBP's Discipline Review Board recommended firing two dozen agents for "serious misconduct."

One agent who was removed posted "offensive images of an alt-right and white supremacist symbol and sexualized images of a Member of Congress," according to the report. The National Border Patrol Council invoked arbitration on behalf of the agent, and the final outcome remains pending.

The second agent removed posted "multiple offensive and abhorrent posts," including a "doctored picture of a Member of Congress being violently sexually abused and raped by President Trump." The firing was appealed to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) – an independent, quasi-judiciary agency within the Executive Branch – that later affirmed the decision.

The House first launched its investigation in 2019 after reports by ProPublica shined a light on racist and sexist messages exchanged between agents in the private Facebook message boards.

Investigators had repeatedly tried to access unredacted disciplinary cases, but said the Trump administration refused to make them available, even after being subpoenaed.

"On February 17, 2021, under the Biden Administration, CBP finally began providing complete and unredacted files regarding employees, their alleged misconduct, and proposed and final disciplinary measures," the report read.

"CBP's failure to prevent these violent and offensive statements by its own agents or impose adequate discipline creates a serious risk that this behavior will continue," Representative Carolyn Maloney from New York, the committee chairwoman, said in a statement.

One notorious Facebook group, known as "I'm 10-15" – Border Patrol's code for "aliens in custody" – boasted more than 9,500 followers, including former Border Patrol chiefs Rodney Scott and Carla Provost, neither of whom reported the behavior. Officials told the committee their membership granted them an easy way to communicate with and "unfiltered" access to rank-and-file officers.

In response to the incidents in this report, senior CBP leadership directed the immediate development of annual social media training that incorporates other aspects of existing training into a specific social media training; and mandates that every CBP employee complete the training by September 30th of each year.

From August 2016 to November 2017, CBP investigated 13 cases of agents posting racist and sexist content on the "I'm 10- 15" Facebook group, according to documents obtained by the discipline board, three years before it was publicly reported. In total, CBP investigated 136 cases of inappropriate social media activity, but found that 62 allegations were unsubstantiated.

In a push for greater transparency, CBP plans to launch a new section on its website dedicated to disclosing agency data and policies including its employee arrest statistics, searchable information regarding use of force trends, and public statements regarding in-custody migrant deaths.

Last month, the Biden administration demobilized units of Border Patrol agents on horseback in Del Rio, Texas, following controversy over the tactics they employed to disperse Haitian migrants.

Homeland Security  pledged to "swiftly" investigate the incidents and take disciplinary actions if warranted, but has yet to issue its findings.

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