Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents who engaged with violent posts in secret Facebook groups ultimately received “significantly lighter” punishments than were recommended by a disciplinary board, highlighting flaws in the agency’s process, according to a report released Monday by the House Oversight and Reform Committee.
A disciplinary board for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection launched an internal investigation into 135 employees who were alleged to have committed misconduct, and 60 agents were found to be in violation of agency policies.
Of the 60 agents, 43 were suspended without pay, 12 received letters of reprimand, three were issued alternative disciplinary actions and two were fired, according to the House report.
The report said that CBP’s board recommended for 24 agents to be removed from their positions over serious misconduct, but the majority received “significantly lighter” punishments.
One border agent who was recommended to be fired posted “a sexually explicit doctored image and derogatory comments about a Member of Congress” but was instead suspended for 60 days and awarded back pay, according to the report.
Most agents who were found to have engaged in misconduct, including some who made degrading and threatening comments about migrants, are back on the force working with migrant adults and children.
A CBP spokesperson said the agency is “working to review policies and to underscore the need to respect the dignity of every individual, fight against discrimination, safeguard civil rights and civil liberties and increase transparency and accountability” in a statement to Forbes.
The report found that, regarding the Facebook group activity of CBP staffers, “the agency failed to take adequate steps to prevent this conduct or impose consistent discipline on agents who engaged in it.”
The report’s findings stem from an investigation launched in 2019 by the Committee on Oversight and Reform after reports from ProPublica and other media outlets detailed violent online posts shared by CBP agents in private Facebook groups. ProPublica reported that some posts in the most prominent group called “I’m 10-15”—CBP code for having migrants in custody—included vulgar illustrations of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), and others mocking migrants that drowned while attempting to cross the Rio Grande. The group once had 9,500 members. The House report states that CBP began producing documents in February 2021 after the Trump administration refused to hand over unredacted information. According to the documents, CBP was aware of the social media posts for three years prior to news coverage, but took “minimal action.” The House report suggested for CBP officials to hold agents who violate the agency’s social media policies accountable, and to prevent agents from working with “vulnerable” migrants if they’ve displayed bias against them. A CBP spokesperson said the agency will not tolerate hateful behavior and that it is participating in an internal review to “identify and terminate intolerable prejudice and to reform policies and training” in a statement to Forbes.