Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) confronted the acting secretary of homeland security, Kevin McAleenan, on Thursday amid a report this month that DHS employees belonged to a secret Facebook group that shared violent, racist images among its members, including a photoshopped meme of the congresswomen being assaulted.
McAleenan was grilled by the freshman lawmaker during a hearing before the House Oversight Committee about the Trump administration’s policy of separating migrant children from their parents. Ocasio-Cortez used her time to point to a July ProPublica report that uncovered the secret group, where around 9,500 members, some who belonged to Border Patrol, joked about migrant deaths and posted the violent memes.
During her questioning, she asked if the acting secretary had seen photoshopped images of herself shared in the group, and asked if any members of Border Patrol affiliated with them were still responsible for working with migrant women and children.
“Did you see the images of officers circulating photoshopped images of my violent rape?” the lawmaker asked. “Do you think that the policy of child separation could have contributed to a dehumanizing culture within CBP that contributes and kind of spills over into other areas of conduct?”
McAleenan replied that he had, but demurred about any potential Border Patrol officers that had been reprimanded to for their involvement, saying simply that some had been placed on “administrative duties.” An investigation by Customs and Border Patrol said this week it determined at least 62 current border agents were in the offensive group.
“We do not have a dehumanizing culture at CBP. This is an agency that rescues 4,000 people a year. It’s absolutely committed to the well-being of everyone that they interact with,” McAleenan replied. He went on to note that the posts were “unacceptable” and said he had ordered an ongoing investigation “within minutes” of learning about the group.
Ocasio-Cortez stood by her line of questioning on Twitter later that day, noting that in her estimation, Trump administration policies were “gravely dehumanizing” and had stripped “all involved of human decency.”
President Donald Trump and his immigration officials have faced a nonstop whirlwind of criticism over their hard-line border policies, including the short-lived but devastating “zero tolerance” policy that saw thousands of migrant children separated from their parents. Recently, border officials have been operating under the White House’s “Remain in Mexico” policy, which has seen thousands of asylum-seekers sent back across the southern border while they wait for their cases to be heard.
Lawmakers also fired blistering criticism at McAleenan amid ongoing reports of filthy, overcrowded conditions at migrant detention centers along the southern border.
“What does that mean when a child is sitting in their own feces? Can’t take a shower?” Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the chairman of the oversight committee, said during the hearing. “What’s that about? None of us would have our children in that position. They are human beings.”