EL PASO, Texas — A former El Paso Border Patrol Sector chief says that a private Facebook page with offensive and sexist content allegedly posted by immigration officers is not representative of the majority of the agents.
The page uncovered through an investigation by ProPublica and includes vulgar posts against migrants and some members of Congress, including El Paso’s Veronica Escobar (D-Texas) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York).
The agency’s Office of Professional Responsibility is investigating the posts and Homeland Security Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan told a national news show this weekend that some agents already were placed on administrative leave.
Some of the members of Congress targeted in the posts have called them “disgusting and vile” and accused agency employees of posing a danger to the migrants under their care.
But Victor Manjarrez Jr., a 23-year veteran of the Border Patrol who served as El Paso Sector chief at the turn of the decade, said the posts reflect the actions and views of a few and not all immigration agents.
“I still have a lot of former peers in the agency, I have relatives and former friends in the agency … they are all high-caliber people. And that’s what the vast majority of people still in the agency are: high-caliber people who wouldn’t do those things,” said Manjarrez, who’s now the associate director of UTEP’s Center for Law & Human Behavior.
“We are talking about an agency of 25,000 people, so to say that none of those agents are going to do wrong would be ludicrous … I think what people have seen on Facebook is not the majority sentiment of the agents. I think it is a very small minority, but people are paying attention to those people. … and it’s an embarrassment.”
Manjarrez said social media has worried federal law enforcement agencies for the better part of a decade, as their public comments could alter prosecutions. “Law-enforcement officers are held to a higher standard. There are certain things that you can and cannot do,” he said.
Given that, he expects that agents found by investigators to be the authors of the offensive posts will face harsh punishment.
“If indeed it is agents that are identified, I think the (consequences) will be significant. If it’s not removal
Manjarrez also weighed in on the recent visit by a congressional delegation to the Border Patrol holding facility in Clint. House members such as Ocasio-Cortez and Julian Castro (D-Texas), said children and women were being held in the facility in “deplorable” conditions, being denied basic services and proper personal hygiene.
Manjarrez said the Clint station hadn’t been built when he headed the Border Patrol in El Paso, but he visited it about a year ago.
“I was amazed at the capacity of that station, the size and how modern it was compared to the old Fabens station” that it replaced, he said. However, the El Paso Sector had not previously experienced the volume of migrants of the past few months, he said.
“When you see the levels now, you could have 33 Border Patrol stations in place and you’d still have problems in terms of capacity,” he said.
Manjarrez also questioned if the visiting lawmakers are familiar with other detention facilities so they could draw comparisons.
“I’ve never seen a detention center anywhere where you say, ‘wow, that’s a nice detention center.'” he said. “The problem is they are shocked because they have never seen a detention center and not just Border Patrol… they’ve never been to a county sheriff’s detention center or police. It’s pretty serious because you’re taking away someone’s liberty, and that is shocking. They were shocked, not so much for the conditions but the fact they were in a detention center.”
At the Border Patrol, Manjarrez said he saw plenty of congressional delegations come and go in the various Sectors.
“They come down and spend about three hours fact-finding and then they leave and you don’t see them for two, three years. So they try to gain some knowledge in two to three hours,” he said.
Manjarrez said he wishes that the members of Congress would “stop visiting and start looking for a solution to be able to fix these flaws and get these people where they need to be.”