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Border Patrol Repeatedly Gave Agents Light Punishments, Report Finds

The Border Patrol had a high-profile role as an enforcer of President Donald J. Trump’s harsh immigration policies. Officials at Customs and Border Protection were aware of the Facebook group in 2016, the report said. In 2019, the group had about 9,500 members. Two of the agency’s chiefs were members of the group, and both justified their memberships as a way to keep track of their work force.

But critics have pointed to the “I’m 10-15” group as evidence of a deep-rooted culture within the Border Patrol that has led to the regular debasement of migrants. The Project on Government Oversight, an external watchdog group, recently called Customs and Border Protection the federal government’s “least transparent and accountable” law enforcement agency. The agency investigated 13 other racist and sexist posts in the private group in 2016 and 2017, the report said, resulting in a three-day suspension in one case, written reprimands or counseling in eight, and no action in four.

The Trump administration had blocked the House committee’s inquiry, which began in 2019 after the Facebook group was revealed. Customs and Border Protection began providing documents to lawmakers in February, after President Biden took office, the report said.

The committee faulted Customs and Border Protection for not having a strong enough social media policy or doing enough to make its employees aware of it. But its main criticism concerned the agency’s decision to dole out lighter discipline than what was recommended by its discipline review board. The agency’s Office of Professional Responsibility conducted the investigations, the review board made recommendations and a “deciding official” — in this case, a longtime Border Patrol agent — made the final decisions on punishment.

According to the report, of the 60 employees that the Office of Professional Responsibility determined acted with misconduct, two were fired; 43 were suspended without pay; 12 got letters of reprimand; and three were given other punishments, such as suspension with pay.

In one case, the discipline review board recommended firing a Border Patrol supervisor who posted a C.B.P. video of a migrant falling off a cliff and dying on the group’s Facebook page, as well as an obscene comment about a lawmaker. But in the end, the punishment was a 30-day suspension. Other punishments were reduced after an arbitration process.

The agency’s failure to quickly discipline employees after senior leaders became aware of the Facebook group, its lack of specific disciplinary guidelines and the inconsistent punishments it applied all weakened Customs and Border Protection’s ability to hold agents accountable for misconduct, the report found.

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