2 Records of Alleged Abusive or Improper Conduct involving “Border Patrol” where the event type is “LGBT Discrimination or Harassment”

October 25, 2021

A strongly (and explicitly) worded report from the House of Representatives’ Committee on Oversight and Reform, issued on October 25, detailed the disciplinary process following 2019 revelations of a secret Facebook page at which CBP personnel posted racist, violent, and lewd content (original link). The Committee discovered that for most involved, consequences were light: they “had their discipline significantly reduced and continued to work with migrants” (original link).

In July 2019, ProPublica revealed the existence of “I’m 10-15,” a Facebook group with about 9,500 members, many or most of them CBP and Border Patrol personnel. (“I’m 10-15” means “I have migrants in custody.”) ProPublica, and later the Intercept, posted screenshots of content replete with sexual imagery, threats of violence, racist sentiments toward migrants, and disparagement (or worse) of left-of-center political figures.

“CBP knew about Border Patrol agents’ inappropriate posts on ‘I’m 10-15’ since 2016, three years before it was reported publicly,” the House Committee found. Among the Facebook group’s members were Border Patrol’s last two chiefs, Carla Provost (2018-2020) and Rodney Scott (2020-August 2021). Both indicated that they followed the group in order to monitor agents’ attitudes and complaints. After ProPublica revealed the page’s existence, Provost had said “these posts are completely inappropriate” and that agents “will be held accountable.”

Investigators had a hard time finding out whether anyone was indeed being held accountable. Facebook refused to provide content from the page to investigators from CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), forcing them to rely on screenshots obtained by media outlets. During the Trump administration, CBP refused to hand over disciplinary records to the House Oversight and Reform Committee, even after the committee issued a November 2020 subpoena. The records were turned over in February, after Donald Trump left office.

The Committee found “significant shortcomings in CBP’s approach to disciplining and training employees on social media misconduct.” CBP OPR opened 135 investigations into allegations related to “I’m 10-15” and other unnamed secret Facebook groups. A chief patrol agent, in the role of “deciding official,” made all disciplinary decisions.

This individual decided that 60 of the 135 CBP employees committed misconduct. In the end, the Committee found, “Almost all received significantly lighter final penalties than proposed by CBP’s Discipline Review Board.”

In the end:

  • 2 were fired; CBP’s Discipline Review Board had recommended 24 removals. Both had published sexualized and in some cases violent images of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York), among other disturbing content.
  • 43 were suspended without pay, most for five days or fewer; the Discipline Review Board had recommended 60 suspensions. Those suspended were “then permitted to return to work in positions of power over migrants,” the Committee’s report notes.
  • 12 received letters of reprimand, 3 received “alternate disciplinary actions” like suspension with pay, 11 received “corrective or non-disciplinary actions,” and 10 took retirement before disciplinary action was taken. Twelve appealed their punishments.

“The CBP discipline system is broken,” a report from an independent DHS panel had stated in 2016 (original link). “No one official and no single office of CBP is actually responsible for assuring timeliness for all phases of the discipline process,” it notes, while “responsibility for investigating an allegation of misconduct is fragmented.” Improving human rights oversight was not a priority during the Trump administration, so no notable accountability progress was made since that report’s publication.

The House Oversight and Reform Committee report described the byzantine accountability process:

OPR investigates the conduct, and CBP’s Discipline Review Board proposes discipline. A deciding official then makes a discipline determination. In some cases, when CBP substantiates allegations of misconduct, employees may be able to appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB); file a grievance with a CBP employee union such as the National Border Patrol Council, which may invoke arbitration on behalf of the employee; or, if they believe the action was discriminatory, file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

This description left out the DHS Office of Inspector General and Office on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, which may play at least tangential roles.

“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,” read a press statement from the committee’s chairwoman, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-New York). “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.”

Border Patrol Agents in Secret Facebook Group Faced Few Consequences for Misconduct (Washington: House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Reform, October 25, 2021) https://oversight.house.gov/sites/democrats.oversight.house.gov/files/COR%20CBP%20Facebook%20Group%20Report%20-%20October%202021.pdf.

— “Committee Report Reveals CBP Reduced Discipline for Dozens of Agents and Allowed Them to Continue Working with Migrants Despite Violent and Offensive Facebook Posts” (Washington: House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Reform, October 25, 2021) https://oversight.house.gov/news/press-releases/committee-report-reveals-cbp-reduced-discipline-for-dozens-of-agents-and-allowed

Final Report of the CBP Integrity Advisory Panel (Washington: Department of Homeland Security, March 15, 2016) https://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/HSAC CBP IAP_Final Report_FINAL (accessible)_0.pdf.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): Border Patrol, CBP

Event Type(s): Abusive Language, Evading Oversight, Insubordinate or Highly Politicized Conduct, LGBT Discrimination or Harassment, Racial Discrimination or Profiling, Threat of Violence, Unethical Off-Duty Behavior

Last Known Accountability Status: Congressional Investigation Closed, OPR Investigation Closed, Personnel Terminated, Suspension, Reprimand, or Counseling

Victim Classification:

July 7, 2020

A complaint to the DHS Inspector-General, submitted by the ACLU Foundation of San Diego and Imperial Counties and ACLU Border Rights Center, denounced “CBP officials’ egregious verbal abuse of detained individuals,” including “many instances in which Border Patrol agents verbally abused individuals, including children, in their custody,” including asylum seekers.

Agents berated migrants for traveling to the United States and attempting to exercise their legal right to seek asylum.[16] “Xenophobic nationalism is widespread,” and derogatory comments are often accompanied by threatened or actual physical violence.[17] Agents bully LGBTQ people, equate migrants to animals, and ridicule and humiliate parents trying to protect their children.[18]

The complaint cited numerous explicit examples, some of them reproduced below. All are from interviews with migrants completed between March and July of 2019 with people recently released from Border Patrol custody in San Diego and Tijuana.

This abuse may involve bullying, harassment, threats of violence or other harm, denigration, ridicule, racism, and misstatements about U.S. immigration law, including an individual’s right to seek asylum. Recently detained individuals related the following statements to our investigator: [28]

– “Olvídate del asilo, a la mejor te quitamos a tu hija.”
“Forget about asylum, we might just take away your daughter.”
—Border Patrol agent to woman while interrogating her about why she came to the United States.

– “No mantenemos hijos de nadie.”
“We don’t take care of anyone’s children.”
—Border Patrol agent to a mother when she asked for food for her 1-year old child who had not had any food to eat for an entire day.

– “Cabrona, échate para atrás.”
“You bastard, get back over there.”
—Border Patrol agent to woman as she was entering the country and injured from crossing the border wall.

– “¿Desgraciada, ¿porque tienes tantos niños si no los puedes cuidar? Puta, prostituta.”
“Disgraced woman, why do you have so many kids if you can’t take care of them? Slut, prostitute.”
—Border Patrol agent to a detained mother.

– “¿Cuáles de ustedes maricas sufren de asma?”
“Which of you faggots suffer from asthma?”
—Border Patrol agent to a holding cell of young boys aged 13 to 17.

– “If you keep complaining I will put you with the dogs.”
—Border Patrol agent to woman when she refused to undress for a search during apprehension.

– “Son indios de pata rajada, solo usan sus hijos para entrar.”
“You are all [derogatory expression referring to indigenous peoples], you only use your children to enter [the United States].”
—Border Patrol agent to detained father.

– “¡Aquí no se hace lo que voz dice, se hace lo que yo digo!”
“Here we don’t do what you say, you do what I say!
—Border Patrol agent to pregnant woman asking for water.

– “Are you f***ing retarded? Stop playing with that s***.”
—Border Patrol agent to children playing in holding cell.

– “Váyanse de aquí, ¿qué hacen aquí sí ni hablan inglés?, no valen nada.”
“Get out of here, what are you doing here if you don’t even speak English, you are worthless.”
—Border Patrol agent to woman and her family upon apprehension.

– “No estás en tu casa, ¿tienes mierda en la cabeza?”
“You’re not at home, do you have s*** for brains?”
—Border Patrol agent to woman who asked for a plastic cup to drink water.

– “Joder con ustedes, por eso no mejoran en su país.”
“I’ve f***ing had it with you, this is why you guys don’t advance in your country.”
—Border Patrol agent to detained woman who did not understand his Spanish.

– “I don’t have to tell you, you broke the law, you have no rights.”
—Border Patrol agent to woman when she asked what was on the form she was being instructed to sign.

– “¡Levántense, puercas!”
“Get up, pigs!”
—Border Patrol agent to a cell of detained women.

– “You are an idiot but you sure are good at popping out kids.”
—Border Patrol agent to detained mother.

— “Re: U.S. Border Patrol’s Verbal Abuse of Detained Individuals” (San Diego and El Paso: ACLU Foundation San Diego and Imperial Counties, ACLU Border Rights Center, July 7, 2020) https://cbpabusestest2.files.wordpress.com/2020/10/2020-07-07-dhs-oig-cmplt-4-final.pdf.

Footnotes from above:

[16]: Josiah Heyman, Jeremy Slack & Daniel E. Martínez, Why Border Patrol Agents and Cbp Officers Should Not Serve as Asylum Officers, Ctr. For Migration Studies (June 21, 2019), https://cmsny.org/publications/heyman-slack-martinez-062119/.

[17]: Id.

[18]: See, e.g., id.; Grace Panetta, Border Patrol officials reportedly forced a Honduran migrant to walk around a detention center holding a sign reading ‘I like men’ in Spanish, BUS. INSIDER, July 5, 2019, https://www.businessinsider.com/detained-migrant-forced-hold-sign-reading-i-like-men-report-2019-7?op=1; Nick Valencia, et al., Border Patrol agents allegedly tried to shame a migrant by making him hold a sign reading ‘I like men,’ emails show, CNN, July 4, 2019, https://www.cnn.com/2019/07/04/us/honduran-migrant-shamed-border-patrol/index.html; Andrew Gumbel, ‘They Were Laughing at Us’: Immigrants Tell of Cruelty, Illness and Filth in US Detention, GUARDIAN, Sept. 12, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/sep/12/us-immigration-detention-facilities; Cristina Novoa, 5 Revelations From Children in Border Patrol Facilities, CENTER AM. PROGRESS, July 3, 2019, https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/early-childhood/news/2019/07/03/471808/5-revelations-children-border-patrol-facilities/ (“Beyond demonstrating a shocking lack of compassion toward frightened children, testimonies also show that some guards appear to deliberately scare children in their custody”).

[28]: Most of ACLU’s interviews were conducted in Spanish, with contemporaneous notes taken in Spanish by our investigator. Where our notes contain the original Spanish quotes, we have provided that original (as relayed by the interviewee to our investigator) as well as our English translation. At times, our investigator memorialized a statement in English only during her interview (via simultaneous translation). In such cases, we have reproduced her English translation here.
Many of these quotes use degrading and offensive language that we hesitated to reprint. In the end, we decided to reproduce the language reported to remain as faithful as possible to the accounts of those we interviewed.

Sector(s): San Diego

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Abusive Language, Conditions in Custody, Denial of Food or Water, Denial of Medical Care, Denial of Protection to Most Vulnerable, LGBT Discrimination or Harassment, Lying or Deliberate Misleading, Racial Discrimination or Profiling

Last Known Accountability Status: Shared with DHS OIG

Victim Classification: Family Unit, Female, Pregnancy, Single Adult