The situation at the border is steadily growing worse. Children are separated from their families and people are being denied basic needs. Over the last year alone, seven children have died in federal immigration custody. There is no way to describe what’s happening at the border outside of cruelty, but the dehumanization of immigrants carries over online as well.
On Monday, a ProPublica report exposed a private Facebook group for Border Patrol officers full of jokes about migrant’s deaths and sexist memes, often featuring Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The group — called “I’m 10-15” Border Patrol code for “aliens in custody” — was created in August 2016. So far, it has roughly 9,500 members from across the United States.
One exchange that ProPublica accessed involved group members making jokes beneath the post of a news story about a 16-year-old Guatemalan migrant who died while in federal immigration custody. One person posted an Elmo Gif with the quote, “Oh well.” Another person said, “If he dies, he dies.”
Regarding a tour planned by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, members of the group were clearly less than thrilled. According to ProPublica — in attacks against Reps. Ocasio-Cortez and Veronica Escobar, one member “encouraged” Border Patrol agents to hurl a “burrito at these bitches.” Multiple posts targeted Ocasio-Cortez by showing her engaging in oral sex. One of those photos was an illustration of President Donald Trump smiling while forcing Ocasio-Cortez’s head towards his crotch. The agent who posted the image said: “That’s right bitches. The masses have spoken and today democracy won.”
Members of the group also weren’t happy about Ocasio-Cortez, (correctly) calling Border Patrol facilities concentration camps instead of detention centers. Euphemisms such as, “detention facilities,” are used to help mask what’s actually going on. By referring to border facilities as concentration camps, Ocasio-Cortez undoubtedly turned additional attention to her from agents within the exposed Facebook group.
Before visiting the Border Patrol facility outside of El Paso, Ocasio-Cortez responded to the report on Twitter.
“This isn’t about a ‘few bad eggs.’ This is a violent culture,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote. “9,500 CBP offices sharing memes about dead migrants and discussing violence and sexual misconduct towards members of Congress. How on earth can CBP’s culture be trusted to care for refugees humanely?”
9,500 CBP officers sharing memes about dead migrants and discussing violence and sexual misconduct towards members of Congress.
How on earth can CBP’s culture be trusted to care for refugees humanely?
PS I have no plans to change my itinerary & will visit the CBP station today.
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) July 1, 2019
The group featured in ProPublica’s report is secret, so there’s no way to find it without receiving an invitation or screenshots. However, ProPublica was able to link participants in the group to legitimate Facebook profiles that belonged to Border Patrol agents. This included a supervisor based in El Paso, Texas and an agent in Eagle Pass, Texas.
To be clear, the United States has had an immigration problem long before President Trump came into office. Xenophobia is deeply embedded in American politics. Between 2009 and 2012, President Obama’s administration deported 1.6 million immigrants. In 2012, the administration reached a record for deportations in a single fiscal year at 419,384.
With Trump’s administration, there is undoubtedly an escalation of tactics and a willingness to begin abandoning some of the political language used to mask the intentions of immigration policies before. It’s important to keep that context in mind. The Trump administration is not an exception to the rule, but a continuation of a political climate that’s been stoked for decades.
This is not the first time that a Facebook group has been revealed as a safe space for those in positions of authority to freely express their hate. In June, an investigation by Reveal found hundreds of former and current law enforcement officers were members of Facebook groups promoting hate speech and bigotry.
The automatic defense is to say that these groups are secret, so how could Facebook know. However, Facebook is absolutely accountable for creating an environment where xenophobia, Islamophobia, racism, and etc.— all extensions of white supremacy — are permitted to run free.
While 9,500 Border Patrol agents can create secret groups to incite further violence against immigrants, Black people can’t even discuss white privilege on the platform without being banned.
As platforms like Facebook are told to redefine their bans on white supremacy because they’re too narrow, these groups pose real questions about how social media platforms will respond to hate encouraged by members of federal agencies.
The report should also make people examine the overall structure of America’s border patrol. This isn’t a matter of a couple of bad individuals but instead speaks to a larger culture and institution that allows this type of violence to fester.
Beyond hate, what we are seeing is the active dehumanization of people at the border. It is why we can see pictures of a father and young daughter lying face down in the same rivers that they drowned in without any real change coming from it. That dehumanization is part of what allows the atrocities to continue and secret groups like this to exist.
Customs and Border Protection has launched an investigation into the Facebook group.