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Federal Agents Joked About Migrant Deaths, Propublica Reports


It is safe to say that Democratic lawmakers had concerns about border detention facilities before they visited yesterday. One of those lawmakers, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, had called them concentration camps. But when lawmakers did visit, they say they found plenty of evidence to back up their concerns. One of them was Representative Joaquin Castro of Texas.


JOAQUIN CASTRO: When we went into the cell, it was clear that the water was not running. There was a toilet, but there was no running water for people to drink. In fact, one of the women said that she was told by an agent to drink water out of the toilet.

INSKEEP: NPR's Franco Ordoñez joins us now in our studios.

Good morning.


INSKEEP: How did the lawmakers, if at all, add to the record of what is known about conditions in these facilities?

ORDOÑEZ: I mean, certainly, you know, they presented a very sad and concerning, you know, picture. They described a place - in their words - broken and horrifying system, where these women were in overcrowded cells without clean water, and they were denied showers. I mean, at one point, they said they spoke with a group of women who were sobbing and crying out of fear and desperation. Representative Joaquin Castro - you just played that video...


ORDOÑEZ: ...Or that audio - pardon me - he posted on Twitter some video that he posted of the women kind of all together, cramped together in sleeping bags and some pictures - a video of the showers themselves.

INSKEEP: This is a photo that I'm looking at here. I see nine women in the frame, and the faces are devastating and just - sometimes a photo can be a little deceptive, but just remarkable sorrow on the faces of the women pictured there.


INSKEEP: What do they intend to do about it, these lawmakers?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, I mean, what they are trying to do is bring greater oversight at these facilities. They certainly do not want children held in detention. They want - most of these lawmakers, most Democrats - remember they voted against the $4.6 billion humanitarian package last month.

INSKEEP: Oh, that passed the Senate as a bipartisan bill, but House Democrats wanted to go farther.

ORDOÑEZ: Exactly. They wanted to go farther. They wanted more protections for the children, for the migrants themselves. They were concerned that Border Patrol and the Trump administration would use the extra money to transition it to enforcement measures instead of humanitarian needs. They just didn't feel like they could trust the administration.

INSKEEP: Franco, help me figure out this related story. ProPublica, the news organization, revealed the existence of a secret Facebook page that was said to be for current and former Border Patrol agents and full of vulgar and offensive and obscene posts. What's on there?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah. The posts are alarming. Among the posts are jokes about throwing burritos at these lawmakers, calling the lawmakers scum buckets, joking about migrants dying. One post appears to be an illustration of Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez performing a sex act; President Trump is in that picture. You know, as you can imagine, the members are outraged. They're calling these posts vulgar, disgusting, vile. Ocasio-Cortez herself said it was a example of violent culture.

INSKEEP: To be totally fair, we don't know that everybody on this group was a Border Patrol agent. Is that right?

ORDOÑEZ: We do not know that everyone was there. The group itself boasts thousands of members, current and former. ProPublica said they were able to verify that some of them were active.

INSKEEP: Some. What does Customs and Border Protection say about that?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, they're saying this is completely inappropriate, that the depictions are contrary to the integrity of the agents that work and serve the country honorably every day. And they also say that employees that have been found to violate the rules will be held accountable. And one more thing, Customs and Border Protection is also saying that an inspector general report will be conducted. So there will be more to come.

INSKEEP: Franco, thanks so much.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you.

INSKEEP: NPR's Franco Ordoñez. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.