The majority of U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents who committed misconduct in private Facebook groups that featured racist and sexist posts against migrants and members of Congress received inadequate penalties and remain on the job, according to a congressional investigation.
The House Oversight Committee presented its findings in a report Monday based on 135 internal investigations into CBP personnel for alleged “inappropriate” social media activity. It found 60 agents violated CBP’s code of conduct by posting threatening and offensive content or “disclosing agency information without authorization” on the Facebook groups.
But the committee found “significant shortcomings” in how the agency disciplined such agents, according to the report. Out of the 60, 43 were suspended without pay, 12 received letters of reprimand and three were given an alternate discipline such as being suspended with pay.
Two of the agents were removed, according to the report. Fifty-seven of the agents remain on the job and work with migrants today.
“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,” said the report, which was prepared by staff from the House committee’s Democratic majority.
A CBP spokesperson told CNBC on Monday evening that the Department of Homeland Security, which includes CBP, is participating in an internal review as directed by Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. The review aims to identify and “terminate intolerable prejudice” and to reform policies and training, the spokesperson said.
“CBP will not tolerate hateful, misogynist, or racist behavior or any conduct that is unbecoming of the honor we hold as public servants,” the spokesperson said.
The committee’s investigation into CBP employees began in 2019 after shocking reports by ProPublica and other news outlets detailed racist and sexist posts in private Facebook groups.
The report said the committee tried for more than a year to access “complete unredacted disciplinary records” but said the Trump administration refused to hand them over, even after the chair issued a subpoena.
The records became available in February after President Joe Biden took office, according to the report. Such records showed that CBP knew about the agents’ inappropriate Facebook posts three years before they were publicized in news outlets.
The most prominent of the Facebook groups that agents engaged in was called “I’m 10-15” — a code used by Border Patrol to refer to migrants in custody. The group was first reported on by ProPublica and had nearly 9,500 members at one point, according to the report.
CBP agents told the committee that “I’m 10-15” was a way to vent their job dissatisfaction, the report said.
The committee found that CBP’s Discipline Review Board recommended firing as many as 24 agents for posting in “I’m 10-15” and other Facebook groups, but the majority received “significantly lighter” punishments instead.
For instance, the CBP board recommended the firing of the Border Patrol agent “who posted a sexually explicit doctored image” and made “derogatory comments about a Member of Congress,” according to the report. Instead, the agent was suspended for 60 days and awarded back pay.
A recommendation to remove another Border Patrol supervisor, who posted an internal CBP video of a migrant “falling off a cliff to their death, as well as explicit and offensive comments” about a member of Congress, was reduced to a 30-day suspension.
Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, D-N.Y., the committee chair, said the report’s findings represent the “broken disciplinary process” at CBP.
“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,” Maloney said in a statement. “As we saw with the mistreatment of migrants by Border Patrol agents in Del Rio, Texas last month, systemic behavior problems within CBP persist.”
The report made several recommendations for CBP to hold employees accountable for social media misconduct. This includes reforming the hiring process to screen out applicants with “records of discrimination,” strengthening social media training and taking social media violations into account when deciding promotions.
CBP officials should also prevent employees who display any bias from working with “vulnerable” migrant populations, such as children, according to the report.