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House oversight committee to subpoena border agency over violent, bigoted social media posts

By Molly O'Toole, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON — The House Oversight committee is set to subpoena the nation's largest federal law enforcement agency as part of a probe into a social media scandal in which Border Patrol agents and officers posted and shared violent and xenophobic messages in secretive Facebook groups with thousands of members.

"They made these vile posts not only about immigrants — including a father and daughter who drowned in the Rio Grande — but also about a member of our committee," House Committee Chair Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., wrote Friday in notifying her colleagues of the intent to subpoena.

Lawmakers requested records in July 2019, Maloney said, but Customs and Border Protection, the parent agency of the Border Patrol, has refused to produce documents identifying employees who participated in the groups.

The primary group — known as "I'm 10-15" after the code used by Border Patrol for migrants in custody — at one point had 9,500 members. The group's vulgar posts, first reported by ProPublica, included an illustration of President Donald Trump assaulting a member of Congress and mocked migrants who drowned in the Rio Grande.

"The Trump administration has expressed more concern about protecting the reputations of employees who made racist and sexually depraved posts," Maloney wrote, "than the wellbeing of the children and families they interact with on a daily basis."

This past July, more than a year after launching an internal investigation into 138 employees for "inappropriate social media activity," CBP told the Los Angeles Times it had fired four border officials and disciplined 60 more for their participation in the groups. Thirty-eight were suspended without pay and an additional 27 disciplined "with reprimands or counseling," an agency spokesman said at the time, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss details of the internal investigation.

 

CBP did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday on the committee's subpoena notification, or whether the four fired agents remain employed by the Department of Homeland Security.

Maloney and fellow lawmakers have criticized what they called a lack of accountability and transparency in the internal investigation conducted by CBP's Office of Professional Responsibility. Lawmakers also said the agency has failed to turn over requested information for their own probe into the scandal, though committees routinely receive sensitive and classified information as part of Congress' oversight role.

The lawmakers likened the initial consequences doled out by CBP so far to a slap on the wrist and have published documents showing the punishments are already being rolled back in negotiations with unions representing the federal employees.

CBP has produced at least three such documents to the committee showing proposed terminations were reduced to suspensions between a week and a month, according to the Friday letter, "despite the fact that all of the underlying charges in these three cases were sustained." Another 19 employees' suspensions were also reduced.

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