Border agency fires 4 linked to secret violent, sexist posts

The largest federal law enforcement agency has fired four employees for their participation in secretive social media groups that have featured violent, sexist and racist posts against migrants and members of Congress, the Los Angeles Times has learned.

More than a year after launching an internal investigation into 138 employees for “inappropriate social media activity,” Customs and Border Protection — the parent agency of Border Patrol — has removed four employees, suspended 38 without pay and disciplined another 27 “with reprimands or counseling,” according to data provided to The Times by the agency.

Investigators from the CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility determined that 63 of the cases — roughly half — were “unsubstantiated.” Six cases remain open, and the Homeland Security Department inspector general is also investigating.

Last July, the office began looking into more than 60 current employees and eight former staff following reports of a secret Facebook group in which members used dehumanizing and derogatory language regarding Latina members of Congress and deceased migrants.

The existence of the group, known as “I’m 10-15,” the code used by Border Patrol for migrants in custody, was first reported by ProPublica, and at one point had 9,500 members. The group’s vulgar posts included an illustration of Democratic New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez being sexually assaulted by President Trump and others that mocked migrants who drowned in the Rio Grande.

The probe, which is not criminal, ultimately doubled the number of individuals under investigation, and included several additional private social media groups.

Matthew Klein, assistant commissioner of the Office of Professional Responsibility at CBP, emphasized at the start of the investigation that the privacy of the social media groups does not protect current or former employees from disciplinary action.

It’s far from the first investigation into offensive social media posts by Border Patrol agents or Customs and Border Protection officers. As of the beginning of the investigation, since January 2016, the office has investigated 80 individuals for inappropriate posts in at least three social media groups, Klein said at the time.

A CBP spokesperson who declined to be named said Thursday that the initial results of the investigation have been shared with Congress.

“Customs and Border Protection addresses misconduct that violates our standards of conduct and is contrary to our core values of vigilance, service to country, and integrity,” the spokesperson said in a statement.