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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

"It is evident that the Trump administration significantly reduced the punishment of many of these employees, while at the same time shielding them from congressional oversight," Maloney's letter stated.

The agency produced one termination letter to the committee that was sent to a supervisory Border Patrol Agent in Calexico, Calif., that stated he was fired for "Conduct Unbecoming a Supervisory Border Patrol Agent," according to Maloney's letter.

"The nature of your posts and your repeated display of poor judgement has destroyed my confidence in your ability to perform your duties," the termination letter reads, according to the Friday letter. "Your continued assertion as to the innocuous nature of your postings leads me to believe there is no reasonable basis for expecting rehabilitation."

The agent, in a written reply, downplayed the posts as "good natured" and said they were "just having fun."

The committee says the agency refuses to provide enough information so congressional watchdogs can determine whether such agents are truly being held accountable. Lawmakers also want to know how the Facebook group and others like it operated for years with agency leaders' knowledge, even though they were clear violations of CBP's standards of conduct.

"Employees will not make abusive, derisive, profane, or harassing statements or gestures, or engage in any other conduct evidencing hatred or invidious prejudice to or about one person or group on account of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, age or disability," the standards state.

The agency's more than 60,000 employees are expected to adhere "both on and off duty," including "comments and posts made on private social media sites."

 

CBP acknowledged the posts violated the standards, according to Maloney's letter, writing to the committee last September, "(P)osts demeaning of migrants and members of Congress were wholly unacceptable."

But agency leadership has pushed back on criticism of their investigation, saying privacy rules made it difficult to share details, even with Congress. Now officials say "leaks/release of information" mean "we cannot ensure that appropriate confidentiality will be placed in the information we provide," according to exchanges between the agency and committee included in the Friday letter.

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

In July 2019, CBP internal investigators began looking into more than 60 current employees and eight former staff members following reports of a secret Facebook group in which members used dehumanizing and derogatory language regarding Latina members of Congress and deceased migrants.

The Office of Professional Responsibility ultimately doubled the number of individuals under investigation, and included several additional private social media groups. The Homeland Security Department's inspector general also opened an investigation.

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