When Homeland Security Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan testified on border security in Congress on Thursday, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez took the opportunity to call out the thousands of current and former U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents in a “violently racist and sexist Facebook group,” which she said has contributed to a “dehumanizing culture” within the agency.
A ProPublica investigation uncovered a secret Facebook group of nearly 9,500 current and former Border Patrol agents, in which members posted vulgar memes about the freshman congresswoman, talked about harming her and fellow Rep. Veronica Escobar, and joked about the deaths of migrants. A similar group with nearly 1,000 members was uncovered within the same week. Ocasio-Cortez attempted to draw connections between the Trump administration’s family separation policy and the racist, sexist, and anti-immigrant posts shared among Border Patrol agents in these online forums.
“Do you think that the policy of child separation could have contributed to a dehumanizing culture within [CBP] that contributes and...spills over into other areas of conduct?” Ocasio-Cortez asked McAleenan.
“This is an agency that rescues 4,000 people a year that’s absolutely committed to the wellbeing of everyone they interact with,” McAleenan responded. “I don’t believe there’s a dehumanizing culture.”
Posts reviewed by CNN from the second group include a meme of Border Patrol agents detaining a migrant with the text, "Feeling kinda cute, might separate some families today IDK," sexist and demeaning posts about Ocasio-Cortez, and images mocking Black and Asian people.
Ocasio-Cortez also asked the acting Homeland Security secretary whether officers who are members of the Facebook groups are currently responsible for the safety and wellbeing of migrant women and children. In response, McAleenan said that there is an active investigation on the matter, and cited Border Patrol Chief Carla Provost’s statement in response to the ProPublica story calling the behavior “completely inappropriate” and a violation of CBP standards of conduct. Provost was recently discovered to be a member of one of the secret groups, The Intercept reported.
“We’ve already put individuals on administrative duties...and we’ve issued cease-and-desist orders to dozens more,” McAleenan said. “I don’t think it’s fair to apply [the memes] to the entire organization, or that even the members of that group believed or supported those posts.”