The Slatest

Report: Border Patrol Chief Participated in Facebook Group Where Agents Joked About Migrant Deaths

Carla Provost raises her hand to be sworn in.
Border Patrol Chief Carla Provost before a Senate subcommittee on May 8. Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Carla Provost, the chief of the United States Border Patrol, was one of a number of Border Patrol personnel to participate in a Facebook group in which members joked about migrant deaths and made other offensive comments about immigrants and asylum-seekers, the Intercept reported Friday. The group’s discovery led to two separate investigations by government watchdog groups into unprofessional behavior.

The group—called “I’m 10-15” after the Border Patrol code for “aliens in custody”—was created in August 2016 for current and former Border Patrol agents. Members posted obscene, misogynistic, and racist content in it, along with cruel comments about migrants. Only one post from Provost has come to light so far, from November 2018, and it doesn’t appear offensive on its own. (A group member commented about Provost’s ascent to the top of the agency, and she chimed in to the resulting conversation to clarify the timeline.) But it indicates she was aware the group existed and participated without apparent concern months before she condemned it to the press.

ProPublica first reported on the group’s existence on July 1, finding that its participants included current agents, supervisors, and ranking officials in the Border Patrol’s union. One of the most offensive posts came from a supervisor at the Border Patrol’s Calexico, California station who has two decades of experience in the agency and was considered a popular poster. The meme he shared showed a smiling President Donald Trump forcing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s head down toward his crotch. “That’s right bitches,” the agent wrote in the post, which appears to refer to a known internal agency conflict. “To everyone who knows the real me and had my back I say thank you. To everyone else? This is what I have to say … ”

Before Ocasio-Cortez and Rep. Veronica Escobar visited the border with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, group members urged agents to throw a “burrito at these bitches.” A member who appeared to be a supervisor wrote “Fuck the hoes,” and a third member called the women “scum buckets.” The members of Congress traveled there to tour a Border Patrol facility where agents were accused of holding children in neglectful conditions.

Other users singled out Ocasio-Cortez for sexually degrading posts. In one image, she is seen engaging in oral sex with a detained migrant, with the text “Lucky Illegal Immigrant Glory Hole Special Starring AOC.”

The worst content involved discussions of the migrants themselves. According to ProPublica:

In one exchange, group members responded with indifference and wisecracks to the post of a news story about a 16-year-old Guatemalan migrant who died in May while in custody at a Border Patrol station in Weslaco, Texas. One member posted a GIF of Elmo with the quote, “Oh well.” Another responded with an image and the words “If he dies, he dies.”

In another thread, a group member posted a photo of a father and his 23-month-old daughter lying face down in the Rio Grande … The member asked if the photo could have been faked because the bodies were so “clean.” … “I HAVE NEVER SEEN FLOATERS LIKE THIS,” the person wrote, adding, “could this be another edited photo. We’ve all seen the dems and liberal parties do some pretty sick things …”

Soon after ProPublica’s story published, Provost denounced the offensive posts and pledged to hold the participating agents responsible. “These posts are completely inappropriate and contrary to the honor and integrity I see—and expect—from our agents day in and day out,” she said in a statement. “Any employees found to have violated our standards of conduct will be held accountable.”

Politico then reported that officials with Customs and Border Protection, which oversees the Border Patrol, had known of the group and the offensive posts for up to three years before news of its existence broke. (Provost was made acting chief in 2017 and officially promoted to the top spot in August 2018. Gil Kerlikowke led the agency in 2016 when the group was formed and certain images were first allegedly reported to CBP. Kerlikowske denied to Politico that he had been alerted to the group’s existence.) Officials told Politico that they did not know if any of the group’s members are actually being punished. A Department of Homeland Security official also said that CBP’s public affairs office had monitored the group “as a source of intelligence” to see “what people are talking about,” but CBP’s press office disputed that. CBP did not, however, deny that Provost and other senior Border Patrol agents had participated in the group.

CBP issued a statement saying the DHS inspector general’s office has launched an investigation into the Facebook posts. CBP also said its Office of Professional Responsibility was “investigating the material” that “multiple sources” provided, and acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan said a number of agents had been placed on “administrative duties” during the investigation, according to ABC News.

The group has declined in size—from 9,500 to 4,000—since the reporting made it known. A second group, “The Real CBP Nation,” was reported by CNN last week and appears to also involve CBP employees and similarly offensive content.

Provost’s 2018 appointment as Border Patrol chief made headlines; she is the first woman to lead the agency in its 94-year history. But since her appointment, Provost—who had been with the agency for 23 years—has been notable more as a representative of the administration’s line on immigration and a defender of her agency as the Border Patrol has come under fire for its role in family separations and other inhumane conditions and policies. Defending the agency last year, she said this: “It has been my experience that if there are no consequences for violating the law, then people will continue to do it.”