We wish we could say the news about the troubling Border Patrol Facebook group was shocking, but sadly, it really shouldn’t be. ProPublica recently exposed a Facebook group comprised of 9,500 Border Patrol agents that share sexist memes, xenophobic comments, and makes fun of migrant deaths. The group is called “I’m 10-15,” which is the Border Patrol code for “aliens in custody.”
There is a photo of Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his daughter Valeria’s lifeless bodies with the original poster calling them “floaters” and wondering if their bodies were photoshopped by “liberals,” because they look “too clean.” But some of the most disturbing conversations are the ones about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. There is a photo illustration of her engaged in oral sex with Donald Trump that says, “That’s right bi****s. The masses have spoken and today democracy won. I have returned. To everyone who knows the real me and had my back, I say thank you. To everyone else? This is what I have to say…..”
This, of course, is indicative of a larger issue — one that activists and journalists have been citing since the Obama Administration — which is the agency’s blatantly racist, sexist, and xenophobic work culture. But more importantly, this group speaks to the character of the people accused of mistreating and dehumanizing the refugees at the border.
Latinx Border Patrol Agents
Something that did surprise us about the report was that there is no mention of white extremism or confederate militia groups as there was in the Reveal News report on law enforcement. It seems to be pretty common and prevalent among law enforcement. But it’s pretty safe to assume that white extremism is not named because it’s highly likely that they are not entirely to blame. It is estimated that half of the 20,000 US Border Patrol officers are actually Latinx.
It’s difficult to grasp how this can even be possible. But there are plenty of seemingly “understandable” reasons people cite as to why we should not judge Latinx border patrol agents. The most prominent being the need for people in desolate border towns to find good work with competitive salaries and great benefits. Something particularly hard to come by in places like Imperial County, California that have a 17% unemployment rate, the second-highest statewide. Although not always the case, it’s also a ticket for people who meet the very basic criteria to move up in class.
A Culture of Cruelty
Border Patrol agents cite wanting a better life for their families (ironically), just doing their jobs, and wanting to protect their country outside of ethnic loyalties. But that still doesn’t explain why they go out of their way to perform despicable cruelty or why they would be vocal members in a group that disparages women and migrants.
Because let’s be real, the Facebook group is probably the least terrible thing Border Patrol is known for. Vicki Gaubeca, director of the Southern Border Communities Coalition, told ProPublica that sexism and misogyny have long plagued the Border Patrol and is commonly cited as the reason behind why the agency is the “worst at recruiting women,” and “have the lowest percentage of female agents or officers of any federal law enforcement.”
Border Patrol has also been accused of being trigger happy, of racial profiling, and of performing illegal searches. Not to mention they’ve detained and deported citizens, and been accused both of sexual assault, and of outright murder. Like in the case of Claudia Patricia Gómez González who was shot and killed by a Border Patrol agent in 2018. This is not a few bad apples ruining the bunch, it appears that to join you must already be rotten.
Why Are They Like This?
In the words of Zora Neale Hurston “all my skinfolk ain’t kinfolk.” But what we really want to know is how Latinx can hate and harm people who are going through many of the same things their own families have gone through? How much would someone have to pay you to tear screaming babies from their mother’s arms? Or to destroy lifesaving water supplies left for migrants in the desert? Or to imprison human beings without proper care, food, and running water for no crime other than wanting a better life for themselves?
There’s something to be said about the pernicious side effects of our capitalist culture. The whole “hey, nothing personal. It’s just business” attitude assumes monetary gains should be attained by any means necessary. There is also the viewpoint assumed by people in positions of power that “just following orders” clears you of any and all responsibility for the impact of your actions. In reality, the actions of these officers are going to reverberate trauma for generations to come.
Another issue is plainly illustrated by the 20% of Latinx that voted for Trump. Which is, in an effort to distinguish themselves from the “bad hombres,” some Latinxs will say and do just about anything to prove their one of “the good ones,” often to their own detriment and/or the detriment of all Latinx living in the U.S. Respectability politics paired with internalized self hate is one hellava drug. And we cannot ignore the racism/prejudice shown towards Indigenous migrants, Black migrants, and LGBTQ+ migrants as motivation for dehumanizing treatment. Also, many Latinx who are 2nd, 3rd, and 4th generation and just don’t identify (or choose not to) with the struggles immigrants and Latinx face.
It’s About Power
At the end of every excuse, there remains the glaring fact that human beings — particularly men — will do horrible things to assert their power (re: the Stanford Prison Experiment). It’s something that licensed therapist Adriana Alejandre of Latinx Therapy suggests is due in part to a combination of toxic machismo and subconscious traumas. “I believe there is a large percentage of Latinx as Border Patrol agents because it is a power move. Many Latinx men are discouraged from expressing their feelings. And this, on a human level, has a high potential of creating resentment and intense negative emotions. This can lead to spiraling thoughts or the desire to emotionally hurt others,” she told HipLatina.
Alejandre adds that past traumas that go unexamined can exacerbate the negative emotions and behaviors they’re already feeling. “Latinx men joining [Border Patrol and ICE] are commonly not aware of their internal reasons to join. But ultimately it is a position of power and a place where they can exert the control that was once taken away from them.”
So What’s Next?
If there is a single, tangible takeaway from this situation, it’s that Border Patrol needs to be held accountable, ICE needs to be abolished, and the concentration camps at the border need to be shut down. But we also need to reckon with the internal issues of racism, sexism, xenophobia that plague us not only as a community but as people. At this rate, we don’t need Trump’s policies to destroy us — we’re too busy destroying ourselves.