Comments made by Border Patrol agents on a secret and private Facebook page weren’t just vile and offensive, but they put into question whether these agents can properly do their jobs. It’s no wonder conditions at border detention camps are so deplorable and migrants treated so inhumanely when those in charge are joking about their deaths and expressing utter disdain for their very being. It raises serious questions about whether the culture of the department has been infected by the hateful rhetoric and sentiments of President Donald Trump.
On one post on the Facebook page, uncovered in an investigation by the non-profit news organization ProPublica, a member expressed indifference for the condition of a 16-year-old Guatamalan boy who died while in the custody of Border Patrol. “If he dies, he dies,” the poster wrote. Another post featured a photo of Elmo and the phrase, “oh well.”
Members used the page to joke about throwing burritos at members of Congress and referred to female lawmakers as “scumbags.” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was the focus of many posts, including vulgar depictions of her giving oral sex to one of the detainees. Another image showed President Donald Trump pushing Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s head toward the area of his genitalia.
Both current and former Border Patrol agents were found to be involved with the page, which dubbed itself “I’m 10-15,” which is code for “aliens in custody.” The page’s 9,500 members come from all parts of the United States.
Customs and Border Protection has launched an investigation into the Facebook page and told the Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General. Border Patrol Chief Carla Provost told NPR the posts are “completely inappropriate and contrary to the honor and integrity” of agents of the department. She also said employees will be “held accountable” if they have violated any standards of conduct.
We hope the department comes down harshly on anyone who posted racist, xenophobic and sexist sentiments that compromise their integrity and ability to protect the safety of migrants seeking asylum in the United States. Officials seem to be taking the matter seriously, but we all know the tone for the department and how immigrants are treated in this country by the federal government has been set by Mr. Trump. The president’s hard line approach to immigration leaves no room for compassion. On the contrary, he appears intent on treating migrants badly to deter them from coming. We certainly haven’t heard him denounce conditions at detention camps, where migrants don’t shower for days and there have been accusations of sexual assaults.
If Border Patrol really wants to do the right thing, it can look to several police departments around the country that punished officers found in similar compromising social media situations.
The police commissioner in Philadelphia put 72 officers on desk duty and vowed that some would be fired after a database of the social media activity of police officers in several cities was released by the Plain View Project. In St. Louis officials said they would not prosecute cases in which officers found to have made posts were involved, while offending officers were given “nonenforcement” assignments in Phoenix. (Baltimore was not included in the database.)
Many of the posts Plain View Project found were too vulgar and profanity-laced to print. A sampling of the more tame comments is still cringe-worthy. “Next time he struggles he should be beat more.” “Animal.” “Not enough lumps on his head.” “Shame they weren’t carrying him in a body bag.”
Plain View Project says on its website they are not trying to debate the First Amendment rights of these officers, but rather to open a discussion about the “fairness, equal treatment, and integrity” needed to police fairly.
We are also not questioning the rights of the Border Patrol agents to free speech. They have every right to say anything they want, particularly on private page like the “10-15” Facebook site. But they also need to know there may be consequences when private thoughts are expressed, even in a supposedly private forum, particularly when they compromise your ability to do your job.