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Two border agents were fired out of 24 recommended for removal for misconduct on Facebook

Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Two Border Patrol agents were fired from a group of 60 who were found to have committed misconduct for participating in a private Facebook group that mocked migrants and lawmakers, congressional investigators said in a report Monday.

A staff report from the House Oversight and Reform Committee summarizes the findings of an investigation into "violent and offensive posts" by Customs and Border Protection employees in private Facebook groups that began in 2019. News reports from the time detailed that agents had joked about migrant deaths and posted sexist memes in a group called "I'm 10-15," which at one point had over 9,500 members.

The committee report found that although CBP was aware of the Facebook group and its contents since August 2016, and although an agency review board recommended that 60 employees face disciplinary action for misconduct, the penalties for most agents were "significantly reduced" from the recommendations.

For example, Customs and Border Protection's Discipline Review Board suggested that 24 of the 60 employees found to have committed misconduct be fired, but only two agents lost their jobs.

The report said one Texas-based agent who was fired had posted an image of Pepe the Frog, an internet meme the review board said was "a symbol of the alt-right and white supremacy," and also posted other memes featuring manipulated photos of President Joe Biden touching Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). He had been with CBP for 10 years. The other fired agent was from California, a 20-year veteran of the agency who was disciplined once in 2005 for undisclosed reasons, who had published homophobic memes and a photoshopped image of former President Donald Trump violently raping a member of Congress. The report did not identify the lawmaker, but in 2019, Ocasio-Cortez had said she was the subject of "rape memes" posted in the "I'm 10-15" Facebook group.

Other agents that the review board recommended be fired were given reduced penalties and allowed to keep their jobs. One agent who "posted a sexually explicit doctored image and derogatory comments about a Member of Congress" had his punishment reduced from removal to a 60-day suspension and was awarded back pay. Another agent who had posted an internal CBP video of a migrant falling off a cliff to their death, as well as an explicit and offensive comment about a lawmaker, was given a 30-day suspension instead of being removed, which was the recommended disciplinary action.

The Discipline Review Board investigated 135 allegations of misconduct related to Facebook posts. Of the 60 agents found to have committed misconduct, 43 were suspended without pay, 12 were given written reprimands, and three were disciplined in other ways, like suspension without pay.

"These outcomes were the result of 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," the report said.

House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Rep. Carolyn B. Malone (D-N.Y.) blasted CBP for not following the recommendations of the disciplinary review board.

"I am deeply troubled by CBP's broken disciplinary process that allowed for significant reductions in discipline and allowed agents to resume work with migrants and children after engaging in serious misconduct," Maloney said in a statement on the report. "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. As we saw with the mistreatment of migrants by Border Patrol agents in Del Rio, Texas last month, systemic behavior problems within CBP persist. CBP must take immediate steps to reform its disciplinary processes, strengthen social media policies and training, and address longstanding issues of poor morale within its ranks."

CBP on Monday said it was conducting an internal departmental review on the orders of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas "to identify and terminate intolerable prejudice, and to reform policies and training."

"CBP will not tolerate hateful, misogynist, or racist behavior or any conduct that is unbecoming of the honor we hold as public servants," the agency said in a statement reported by the Associated Press.

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