Congress

As Democrats head for border tour, reports emerge of agents ridiculing them on Facebook

Group to tour Customs and Border Patrol center likened to ‘torture facilities’

From left, Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna S. Pressley and Rashida Tlaib are among a group of Democrats traveling to Clint, Texas, on Monday for a fact-finding mission hosted by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

More than a dozen Democrats on Monday are visiting a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol facility accused of child neglect and filthy conditions as reports emerged that border agents ridiculed them in a secret Facebook group.

Two Latina lawmakers slated to visit the center, Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Veronica Escobar of Texas, were targets of sexist and racist derision in the Facebook group, according to an investigation by ProPublica. The group has 9,500 members, a number commensurate to nearly half of all agents who make up the CBP, though it’s not clear that every member of the group is a border agent.

ProPublica linked people who posted to the group to profiles apparently belonging to Border Patrol agents, including a supervisor in El Paso. 

“F--- the hoes,” wrote one member of the group, described by the nonprofit news organization as an apparent Border Patrol supervisor, about Ocasio-Cortez and Escobar.

Another member encouraged Border Patrol agents to throw a “burrito at these b-----s” during their visit. 

The report broke as Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman Joaquin Castro hosted a fact-finding mission to the station at the U.S.-Mexican border in Clint, Texas, following recent reports laid out in court documents of inhumane conditions suffered by detained children, including infants, that one pediatrician likened to “torture facilities.”

Castro and Escobar are hosting the congressional delegation to investigate the treatment of immigrants in several facilities in Clint and El Paso, where another CBP processing center for adults was found to be severely overcrowded, with some people standing on toilets and wearing soiled clothing for days, according to a Department of Homeland Security inspector general’s report in May.

The caucus called Monday for the officers participating in the Facebook group to be fired and for the DHS inspector general to launch an investigation

“They’re threatening violence on members of Congress. How do you think they’re treating caged children [and] families?” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted Monday.

“These are clearly agents who are desensitized to the point of being dangerous to migrants and their co-workers,” Castro told ProPublica after reviewing the posts.

The visit also comes days after the defeat of an amendment to strengthen health and safety safeguards for migrant children in U.S. custody.

The House voted Thursday to send $4.59 billion in funding to border operations without the amendment favored by the Hispanic Caucus to implement stricter accountability for housing children, including clear standards for medical care, nutrition and hygiene. Facilities caring for unaccompanied children would have had to allow oversight visits from lawmakers without prior notice.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi bowed to pressure from moderates in her party to instead pass the Senate version of the border bill favored by the White House. 

The amendment would have also reshuffled money away from Immigration and Customs Enforcement while creating a multi-agency pilot program based on recommendations of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and doubling funding for local nonprofits and jurisdictions handling the care of migrants after they are released.

The CHC lambasted Pelosi’s buckling on the amendment as “a betrayal of our American values.”

“When the CongressionalHispanicCaucus members see suffering at the border, we see our children and our grandchildren. What happened today is unacceptable, and we will not forget this betrayal,” caucus members said in a statement. 

The delegation to Texas includes a trio of progressive Democrats who earlier this year called for halting funding to border patrol altogether until CBP facilities are subject to greater transparency — Ocasio-Cortez, Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Rep. Ayanna S. Pressley of Massachusetts.

Also on the trip, according to a media release, are Rep. Judy Chu, chairwoman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, as well as Reps. Marc Veasey and Sylvia R. Garcia of Texas, Reps. Pete Aguilar, Norma J. Torres and Nanette Barragán of California, Rep. Greg Stanton of Arizona, Reps. Joseph P. Kennedy III and Lori Trahan of Massachusetts, and Rep. Madeleine Dean of Pennsylvania.

Early reports from the CODEL have surfaced through the lawmakers' social media accounts: Ocasio-Cortez, for example, said she witnessed women with no access to drinking water who were allegedly told to drink out of toilets at a CBP facility. 

Several Texas state lawmakers will join the congressional delegation.

Tanvi Misra, David Lerman and Patrick B. Pexton contributed to this report.

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