WASHINGTON (CN) – U.S. Border Patrol Chief Carla Provost told a House panel Wednesday that she belonged to a private Facebook group in which members posted derogatory statements about immigrants and Democratic lawmakers, but said she only joined to occasionally monitor the group.
Provost was the only witness at a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing on Customs and Border Protection oversight that focused on the Facebook group named “I’m 10-15,” a reference to the law enforcement code for an undocumented immigrant in custody.
Comments posted in the group included remarks calling Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, “hoes.” One member suggested an agent throw a ‘burrito at one of these bitches’.
Provost condemned the posts when the group was revealed earlier this month, and again Wednesday, as not representing her agency. She said the first time she saw the derogatory remarks was when they were revealed by investigative news site ProPublica because she does not use Facebook often.
She then immediately turned her Facebook login information over to CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility and issued a memo condemning the conduct.
“They were able to go in and look at all of my activity over the three years that I have been a member of Facebook,” Provost said. “From June of 2018 through June of 2019, I logged onto Facebook on nine different days.”
Provost admitted she had made a comment within the group, but said she only uses the search function on the site to find references to her name. Her comment referred to a post involving her professional duties, she said.
Provost deferred addressing a change in CBP policy to the Office of Professional Responsibility, saying it was that office’s responsibility to address allegations of misconduct.
Representative Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, D-Fla., citing a widely reported allegation of an agent forcing a Honduran immigrant to hold a sign reading “I like men” in Spanish, asked Provost what she would do to address the perceived “culture of cruelty” within the agency.
“Will you make the commitment, here and now, to do a comprehensive investigation about the cruel acts [of] many of your CBP officers?” Wasserman-Schultz asked. “There are widespread reports that demand a comprehensive investigation. Will you commit to that?”
“I can tell you that is not the job of my Border Patrol officers, that is the job of the Office of Professional Responsibility,” Provost said. “I can tell you that instance is definitely being investigated.”
Wasserman-Shultz, continuing during a second round of questioning Wednesday, noted that out of 7,239 disciplinary actions in CBP in the fiscal year 2017, only 70, or less than 1%, of agents were fired. Provost responded that about 3,800 of those reports were unsubstantiated.
“There are numerous things that could bring to light discipline,” Provost. “I would state though also, during 2017 we did have hundreds of individuals that received suspensions.”
The hearing also delved into the definition of family units, and how CBP agents determined they needed to separate a child from a family group. Provost said the lawful definition, which CBP strictly adheres to, defines a family unit as a mother, father and child. People who falsely portray themselves to be a parent of a child – aunts, uncles or other relatives – are then separated. These groups are deemed “fraudulent families” by the agency.
“By law I cannot keep those individuals together,” Provost said.
Representative Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., took issue with this act of separation, arguing it was safer to keep minor children with their relatives. She said the standard for separating a parent or person from a child should be whether they present a threat to the minor.
“If there’s no threat, shouldn’t there be no separation? Because you’re talking about a 2-year-old, a 3-year-old, a 5-year-old. Isn’t that correct?” Lowey said. “If you believe that there’s no threat to the child, shouldn’t there be no separation?”
“The threat to a child is one of the things that we consider…we have U.S. citizens that violate the law everyday that are taken away from their children,” Provost said. “As you know it’s my job to enforce the laws on the books.”