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70 border employees under investigation over Facebook posts

(AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio)

PHOENIX — A U.S. Customs and Border Protection official said Monday that 70 Border Patrol employees are under internal investigation over posts they made in a secret Facebook group.

“Currently 70 individuals are under investigation for alleged inappropriate social media activity within three private social media groups,” a CBP official told KTAR News 92.3 FM. “Currently all of the cases are administrative and not criminal.”

The revelation comes two weeks after a ProPublica report found a secret Facebook group for current and former Border Patrol agents that made derogatory statements and jokes about immigrants and Hispanic lawmakers.

The group’s page had posts with manipulated photos showing U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez performing fake sex acts and conspiracy theories suggesting a viral photo of a father and daughter who drowned in the Rio Grande was staged.

The group was created in August 2016 and has over 9,500 members, according to the report.

U.S. Sen. Martha McSally of Arizona told reporters earlier this month that it was “nauseating” to read about the offensive posts, and she supported an investigation into their origin.

“Messages posted on a private page that are discriminatory or harassing are not protected and violate standards of conduct,” Matthew Klein, assistant commissioner of the agency’s Office of Professional Responsibility, told the Associated Press on Monday.

Since 2016, 80 other individuals have been investigated for misconduct for social media posts, and his office put out a reminder on policies last year, Klein said.

Customs and Border Protection officials didn’t immediately have the outcome of those investigations but said they were working to gather the information.

A former agent who belongs to the 10-15 Facebook group told AP that members had to provide the administrator with their graduating class number from the Border Patrol Academy and have a current member vouch for their credentials.

The agent, who retired last year in San Diego, spoke to AP on condition of anonymity because he feared a public backlash.

The agent likened the forum to a bar where agents would gather after work and swap stories. He said any agent active on Facebook would have likely received an invitation to join.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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