The scandal of how immigrant families are being treated by the Customs and Border Protection agency (and its related agency Immigration and Customs Enforcement and their parent organization the Department of Homeland Security) is finally getting the attention it deserves. Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus led by its chair Joaquin Castro are keeping the heat on by paying a visit to two of the detention sites in Texas and defying the CBP officials who tried to give them a guided Potemkin tour of just selected areas. They demanded access to other areas and the right to talk to the people being detained, and when they were denied, they did so anyway. They described what they saw as “horrifying”.
Robert Mackey reports on what happened at their visit.
REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ resisted the efforts of Customs and Border Protection officials to prevent her from speaking directly to migrants detained in El Paso, Texas on Monday, forcing her way into a cell filled with women during a visit by a Congressional delegation.
Emerging from the facility, Ocasio-Cortez wrote on Twitter that one of the detained women “described their treatment at the hands of officers as ‘psychological warfare’ — waking them at odd hours for no reason, calling them wh*res, etc.”
Ocasio-Cortez told reporters, in Spanish and English, that conditions at the facility were unacceptable, and condemned the behavior of the officers she encountered there. The detained women were held without access to running water, Ocasio-Cortez said, and were “told by CBP officers to drink out of the toilet.”
As the Democrats left to inspect a second detention facility — a CBP station along the Mexican border in Clint, Texas where detained children have described appalling conditions — the pro-Trump Washington Examiner tried to cast Ocasio-Cortez as overly aggressive. Another member of the delegation, Rep. Joe Kennedy III, responded to that report by accusing CBP officers of leaking “misinformation,” and described Ocasio-Cortez’s decision to break away from the agency’s “staged” tour as entirely appropriate Congressional oversight.
Kennedy added that officials at both facilities were “very resistant to Congressional oversight. They tried to restrict what we saw, take our phones, block photos and video. Atmosphere was contentious and uncooperative.”
Castro managed to smuggled his phone in and took photos. It is a measure of how bad things have become that the CBP feels that it has the right to deny access to and even threaten elected members of congress who are, after all, the representatives of the people.
After the visit to the facility, the congresspeople gave a press conference outside where they faced down abusive comments by Trump supporters. Ocasio-Cortez said that she did not feel safe in the presence of CBP officers and that is hardly a surprise since A. C. Thompson of ProPublica, who has done some excellent work investigating and infiltrating the secret online world of neo-Nazi and white supremacist hate groups and their involvement in things like Charlottesville, has reported on a Facebook group used by CBP officers that has targeted Ocasio-Cortez and others with racist and sexist slurs.
Members of a secret Facebook group for current and former Border Patrol agents joked about the deaths of migrants, discussed throwing burritos at Latino members of Congress visiting a detention facility in Texas on Monday and posted a vulgar illustration depicting Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez engaged in oral sex with a detained migrant, according to screenshots of their postings.
Created in August 2016, the Facebook group is called “I’m 10-15” and boasts roughly 9,500 members from across the country. (10-15 is Border Patrol code for “aliens in custody.”) The group described itself, in an online introduction, as a forum for “funny” and “serious” discussion about work with the patrol. “Remember you are never alone in this family,” the introduction said.
ProPublica received images of several recent discussions in the 10-15 Facebook group and was able to link the participants in those online conversations to apparently legitimate Facebook profiles belonging to Border Patrol agents, including a supervisor based in El Paso, Texas, and an agent in Eagle Pass, Texas. ProPublica has so far been unable to reach the group members who made the postings.
ProPublica contacted three spokespeople for CBP in regard to the Facebook group and provided the names of three agents who appear to have participated in the online chats. CBP hasn’t yet responded.
“These comments and memes are extremely troubling,” said Daniel Martinez, a sociologist at the University of Arizona in Tucson who studies the border. “They’re clearly xenophobic and sexist.”
The postings, in his view, reflect what “seems to be a pervasive culture of cruelty aimed at immigrants within CBP. This isn’t just a few rogue agents or ‘bad apples.’”
Meanwhile, that other excellent investigative outfit Reveal has also looked into how members of various law enforcement agencies form what can only be described as hate groups.
Hundreds of active-duty and retired law enforcement officers from across the United States are members of Confederate, anti-Islam, misogynistic or anti-government militia groups on Facebook, a Reveal investigation has found.
These cops have worked at every level of American law enforcement, from tiny, rural sheriff’s departments to the largest agencies in the country, such as the Los Angeles and New York police departments. They work in jails and schools and airports, on boats and trains and in patrol cars. And, Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting discovered, they also read and contribute to groups such as “White Lives Matter” and “DEATH TO ISLAM UNDERCOVER.”
The groups cover a range of extremist ideologies. Some present themselves publicly as being dedicated to benign historical discussion of the Confederacy, but are replete with racism inside. Some trade in anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant memes. Some are openly Islamophobic. And almost 150 of the officers we found are involved with violent anti-government groups such as the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters.
These organizations seem to be rotten to the core. They are not just a few ‘rogue’ elements or ‘bad apples’, the usual excuse given by their employers. The kinds of views held by these people in law enforcement did not appear overnight. They have either always been there or the prejudicial mentality was lying there latent, waiting for the right trigger to bring them to the surface. It is clear that Donald Trump’s words and actions have created the climate that makes these people feel comfortable letting loose their inner racism.