No excuse for border patrol officers' posts

Jul 19 2019 | 12:48 PM

    While people may disagree on immigration policy, the American public with one voice should condemn the disturbing posts maligning migrants and Latino members of Congress that rogue Border Patrol officers posted as part of an illicit Facebook group.
    The Department of Homeland Security's inspector general is investigating the racist, sexist, sexually explicit and cruel posts exposed by the New York-based news outlet ProPublica. But there is no time for a drawn-out inquiry. U.S. Customs and Border Protection itself must quickly identify those who created the group and made offensive comments — and then it must mete out the stiffest punishment possible.
    The agency's reputation, already tainted by reports of poor living conditions in detention centers on the southern border, is on the line. Worse, the offenders' misconduct further inflames a debate over immigration that has torn the nation in two. Their idiocy and bigotry have pushed compromise, solutions, reforms — progress of any kind — further out of reach even as migrants continue to stream into overrun detention centers.
    The Facebook group's very name — “I'm 10-15," police speak for alien in custody — is abhorrent. Although people in medicine, law enforcement and many other fields risk becoming desensitized to the people they encounter on the job, the Border Patrol officers' posts are beyond the pale. They include jokes about the migrant deaths that have agonized the nation, with one writing about a 16-year-old, “If he dies, he dies." The youth did, in fact, die.
    Members of the group also mocked last week's widely disseminated photo of a man and his 23-month-old daughter who drowned in the Rio Grande, asking whether the image was fake because the"floaters" looked “clean."
    At least one commenter suggested hurling burritos at Latino members of Congress during the group's tour of a detention center, and freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., an agency critic, was the subject of crude and sexually explicit remarks. President Donald Trump pointed out that some Customs and Border Protection employees are upset with congressional critics — but who cares? Government employees don't get to second-guess their overseers, and that is the role Congress plays. The Facebook group signals the need for even greater oversight.
    Now, the agency and its supporters say that the offensive posts don't reflect the sentiments of most hardworking border officers. Also, some of those who made the offensive remarks may just have been letting off steam after a hard day's work, without really meaning what they wrote.
    All of that may be true. But the posts reflect a broken culture that the agency must correct. And it isn't just on display at the southern border. Anyone who travels internationally knows that American border and customs workers are ruder and less professional than many of their foreign counterparts. It's time for the agency to re-evaluate its hiring practices, root out the rotten apples and develop better stress-management programs for employees who struggle with job-related stress.
    The politicians and pundits rushing to condemn the Facebook offenders also should pause to take stock of their own conduct. Political polarization has created an environment in which crude talk passes for candor and offensive behavior for toughness. This is the wrong example to set for border and customs agents, even the best of whom must struggle at times to enforce the law in a respectful way.
    Pittsburgh Post-Gazette