Customs and Border Protection officials announced Monday that the agency has opened investigations into 70 individuals, including 62 current and eight former employees, as a result of media reports that exposed a secret Facebook group in which some current or former Border Patrol employees shared racist, sexist and misogynistic posts about immigrants and members of Congress.
During a conference call that was scant on details, Matthew Klein, the assistant commissioner for the CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility, said his office had completed two investigations so far and had forwarded its findings to the agency’s employee relations division for review and any decisions about potential discipline. He declined to say whether his office had substantiated the allegations in those cases.
Klein also would not identify any of the 70 people under investigation, what types of jobs they hold or held or whether any senior Border Patrol officials were among those under scrutiny. Klein and his deputy, Michele James, also declined to indicate whether any employees had been suspended from duty as a result of their activity in the Facebook group, saying that doing so would violate the employees’ rights to due process.
And Klein refused to confirm a report by The Intercept, which had archived some of the posts from the secret group, that Carla Provost, the chief of the Border Patrol, had once been a member of the group, called “I’m 10-15,” or say whether she was under investigation. Provost has not commented.
Klein would only say that his investigation is “comprehensive” and is being conducted without regard to rank. Klein said that the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General had declined to start an investigation of its own but had remanded the case to his office.
The Border Patrol has come under intense scrutiny since ProPublica first exposed the offensive posts by some current and former employees, including at least one supervisor. That report, on July 1, was followed by other media organizations, including The Intercept, which shared even more posts and identified Provost as a member. The posts raised questions about whether they were a reflection of dangerous attitudes by a small number of individuals or a reflection of the agency’s culture.
Klein said that in addition to the “I’m 10-15” group, his office is investigating two other secret Facebook groups for Border Patrol employees. And he said his office was seeking to identify not only those responsible for offensive posts, but also those who were aware of them. Agents who are aware of any kind of misconduct, Klein said, are obligated to report it.
Klein said his office has signaled to all CBP employees that “expectations of professional conduct don’t end at the end of a shift.” Klein also noted that, dating back to January 2016, his office had investigated at least 80 individuals participating in at least three other secret social media groups for posting inappropriate comments. He did not say how those cases were resolved.