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CBP confirms firings, suspensions over Facebook posts

Facebook Inc. said it has removed 2.5 million posts since March 1 offering masks, sanitizers, cleaning wipes and Covid-19 test kits, in an attempt to prevent users from price-gouging or selling counterfeit and dangerous products. (Dreamstime/TNS)

After a more than year-long investigation into derogatory social media posts from some of its personnel, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials fired four, and suspended more than 35 officers as a result.

“U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) addresses misconduct that violates our Standards of Conduct and is contrary to our core values of vigilance, service to country, and integrity,” the official statement from CBP confirming the firings and suspension states. “(Four) employees were removed from service, 38 employees were suspended without pay, and the remaining were disciplined with reprimands or counseling.”

The statement adds that of the 138 cases CBP investigated of “inappropriate social media activity,” more than half — 75 cases — were found to be substantiated, and another 63 were unsubstantiated. The statement underscores that as of July 15, six cases remain open and under investigation.

Last summer, at the height of the refugee asylum surge at the U.S.-Mexico border, CBP opened an investigation into its officers after it linked them to a Facebook group page called, “I’m 10-15,” that had as many as 9,500 members.

On July 1, 2019, Assistant CBP Commissioner with the Office of Professional Responsibility, Matthew Klein, released a statement related to the beginning of an investigation after pressure from the public about the social media posts.

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The statement reads: “… (CBP) was made aware of disturbing social media activity hosted on a private Facebook group that may include a number of CBP employees. CBP immediately informed DHS Office of the Inspector General and initiated an investigation. CBP employees are expected to adhere to CBP’s Standards of Conduct, Directive No. 51735-013A both on and off duty, which states, ‘Employees will not make abusive, derisive, profane, or harassing statements or gestures, or engage in any other conduct evidencing hatred or invidious prejudice to or about one person or group on account of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, age or disability. This includes comments and posts made on private social media sites.’”

The group was created in August 2016, and was linked to members of Border Patrol agents and CBP officers.

In some of the posts, some misogynistic and sexist in nature, CBP personnel and others made derogatory remarks about asylum seekers, about members of Congress, and in one post, people on the private Facebook page mocked a father and daughter who had drowned attempting to cross the Rio Grande into the country.

Dr. Terence M. Garrett, a University of Texas Rio Grande Valley professor, an expert in Border Security, Migration Policy, and Homeland Security, said the posts reveal some of the true opinions of the men and women in the agency’s ranks.

Garrett said employees of the agencies are aware of the oath that prohibits them from making derogatory remarks.

“The types of (posts) they were putting out basically undermines what they swore an oath to do in terms of protecting the public, and that includes people that are coming across borders.

“… You’re getting a glimpse into some of the attitudes of some of the agents, unfiltered, unfettered, exposing, really their true feelings about how they think about migrants, and asylum seekers, and the destitute.”

Garrett characterized it as a “public relations disaster,” for CBP, Border Patrol and its parent agency the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Garrett, who has testified before congress on DHS, CBP, Border Patrol and other federal agencies’ personnel issues in the past, said the agencies routinely fall dead last in the federal government’s annual “morale survey.”

He said CBP and Border Patrol have been at the bottom with regard to employee morale since the introduction of the survey in 2007.

“… (Employees of these agencies) have a very low opinion about the type of work that they do, and the type of supervisor and management that the agency has; they have very low opinion about supervision,” Garrett said.”That’s also indicated by about a 6% turnover (rate) per year (for DHS); which is very high for any federal agency.”

In fiscal year 2018, CBP fired, or “removed ,” 68 officers, based on the most recent data on disciplinary action within the agency.

Also in 2018, another 173 CBP officers retired or resigned as a result of an “agency-wide” action or investigation, the data states.

U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, stated the agencies and the officers who represent the country should be held to high standards.

“There must be zero-tolerance of racism from our CBP officers. They are the face of our immigration and customs enforcement and deserve to be held to the highest standards,” the congressman said in a prepared statement.

Though the investigation led to firings and suspensions; when asked where the personnel are from, and if any are from the Rio Grande Valley sector, CBP declined to address the question and referred back to its official statement regarding the investigation.

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© 2020 The Monitor