Things That Matter

A Secret Facebook Group For Immigration Officers Mocking Dead Migrants Has Been Exposed

It’s been revealed that members of a secret Facebook group for Border Patrol agents have been sharing jokes about migrant deaths, sexist memes about lawmakers and making racist comments. According to an investigation published by ProPublica, the secret Facebook page, for former and current Border Patrol officers, was called “I’m 10-15,” which refers to the Border Patrol’s code 10-15, for “aliens in custody.”

The page became a place for members to make racist, sexist, and inhumane comments about migrants, and government officials. Now, U.S. Border Patrol is facing backlash for the uncovered Facebook group.

Here’s what we know about the Facebook group.

Created in August 2016, the group described itself as a forum for “funny” and “serious” discussion about work with border patrol. “Remember you are never alone in this family,” the introduction said. There were roughly 9,500 members in the group, which according to Propublica, is nearly half the current number of Border Patrol officers.

The investigation also revealed that many of the people in the conversations on the group were “apparently legitimate Facebook profiles belonging to Border Patrol agents.” At this time it’s unclear if ProPublica was able to verify how many of the members are actually current or former border patrol agents.

Images show comments mocking drowned migrants Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his 23-month-old daughter, Valeria.

Credit: ProPublica

In a disturbing post, group members joked about the Salvadoran father and his 23-month-old daughter who drowned in the Rio Grande while trying to cross into the U.S. The image, which shows their bodies floating in the water, was the center of uproar against the Trump administrations asylum laws after being published by news organizations last week.

“I’m not trying to an a$$ but I HAVE NEVER SEEN FLOATERS LIKE THIS,” one member of the Facebook group wrote, suggesting the photo could have been edited. “We’ve all seen the dems and liberal parties do some pretty sick things…”

Another post shows a group member making fun of the death of Carlos Gregorio Hernandez-Vasquez, a 16-year-old Guatemalan migrant who died in custody at a Border Patrol station in Weslasco, Texas. A member responded to the news of his passing with a GIF of Elmo shrugging. “If he dies, he dies,” commented another.

Members of the group shared derogatory and sexist comments about lawmakers, including Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Veronica Escobar, D-Texas.

Credit: ProPublica

Lawmakers were a big target of the Facebook group. Users called Rep. Ocasio-Cortez and Rep. Veronica Escobar both “hoes” and “scum buckets,” this included a comment that agents should throw a “burrito at these bitches.” Both lawmakers had planned visits to a Border Patrol facility outside El Paso on Monday but didn’t know of the group until after.

Ocasio-Cortez has been on of the most vocal and high-profile voices against the separation of families at the U.S-Border. She’s also spoken out about conditions at holding facilities and has compared migrant detention centers to concentration camps. Shortly after the story broke, Ocasio-Cortez tweeted the story with the comment, “This isn’t about ‘a few bad eggs.’ This is a violent culture.”

“9,500 CBP officers sharing memes about dead migrants and discussing violence and sexual misconduct towards members of Congress,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote. “How on earth can CBP’s culture be trusted to care for refugees humanely?”

There has been immediate backlash since the story broke.

Credit:@funder / Twitter

There has been swift and immediate condemning of the Facebook group from advocacy groups and fellow lawmakers. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus said the comments are unacceptable and demanded the offending officers be let go.

“Unfortunately, there are many within [Customs and Border Patrol] who have become desensitized to the point of being dangerous to the migrants in their care,” Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) said at a press conference in Clint, Texas. “I expect there will be a congressional investigation to get to the bottom of it.”

Many are calling the Facebook group a product of the culture within the border enforcement community. Customs and Border Protection is now undergoing an investigation into the group.

“These posts are completely inappropriate and contrary to the honor and integrity I see — and expect — from our agents day in and day out,” Carla Provost, Border Patrol chief, told NBC News. “Any employees found to have violated our standards of conduct will be held accountable.”

Daniel Martinez, a sociologist at the University of Arizona in Tucson who studies the border, told ProPublica that the Facebook group reflects what “seems to be a pervasive culture of cruelty aimed at immigrants.”

“These comments and memes are extremely troubling,” Martinez said. “They’re clearly xenophobic and sexist.”

READ: This Is The Emotional Cartoon That Got An Artist Fired From His Job For Criticizing Trump’s Immigration Policies

Authorities Sentence Cuban Man To 14 Years For Kidnapping And Extortion Of Undocumented Immigrants

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Authorities Sentence Cuban Man To 14 Years For Kidnapping And Extortion Of Undocumented Immigrants

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The man who led a group of criminals to prey on and kidnap undocumented women and children in an extortion scheme has been sentenced to 14 years in prison by a federal judge. Francisco Betancourt, a Cuban immigrant, led a group of other Latino, Spanish-speaking men to target Central American immigrants, who had just arrived, disoriented, at bus stops in New York City, seeking to be reunited with their families. Betancourt would use his Latinidad to gain the immigrants’ trust, then, steal their bus tickets, and coerce them to get into a cab that would ultimately cost their families well over $1,000 in “cab fees.”

District Attorney Judge John H. Durham announced Thursday that Betancourt was sentenced in New York, New York by U.S. District Judge Stefan R. Underhill to 168 months of imprisonment in the Bridgeport facility, followed by three years of supervised release. Betancourt will be 84 years old by the time he is released from prison.

Francisco Betancourt conspired with three other Latino men to carry out the kidnappings of primarily young mothers with children.

Credit: @TheWomensWatch / Twitter

“The victims included women, men, and children from Central American countries who did not speak English and were seeking asylum in the U.S,” according to a statement by the US District of Connecticut Attorney’s office. “Some of the victims planned to travel from New York to Connecticut. Telling the victims that a connecting bus was not available and that they would provide transportation, Betancourt and others coerced the victims into vehicles. The co-conspirators would then drive the victims around, sometimes for hours, and refused to release them until they or their families agreed to pay the co-conspirators an exorbitant amount of money, on average more than a $1000.”

Betancourt used his Latinidad to victimize fellow immigrants.

Credit: @migrantfreedom / Twitter

Betancourt allegedly fled Cuba on the Mariel boatlift that famously aided a mass emigration of Cubans in the 1980s. Prosecutors allege that Betancourt was one of the prisoners, convicted of theft, that Castro ejected from the island and put on a ship with other freed inmates and mentally ill people to Mariel, Florida. Betancourt has served two prison sentences in the United States since his arrival. 

His victims were often young women traveling with children. They were nearly at the end of a long, treacherous journey, often having traveled from their dangerous homes in Central America, through Mexico, and past the U.S. border. Once granted asylum, or strapped with tracking ankle devices, border authorities put them on a bus from the border to New York City. Days of traveling later, they have one more bus to catch before being reunited with family.

At times, Betancourt’s co-conspirators would pose as immigration officers to further intimidate the victims.

Credit: @icegov / Twitter

Betancourt and his crime gang could spot the families from a mile away, having been immigrants themselves. They would steal their bus tickets and immigration forms and tell them that they worked for ICE and had arranged a taxi cab service instead. With their contact information in hand, from their immigration forms, they would call their relatives and request a taxi fare (ransom) for $2,000. Often, the families didn’t have enough money on hand, and they would settle for hundreds of dollars less. Because the relatives were often undocumented, they would never report the crime. 

Half of the four-person gang of criminals have been sentenced, with another two co-conspirators awaiting their sentences.

Pascual Rodriguez, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, had already been sentenced in July to nearly 12 years in prison. Upon his release, his custody will be transferred to ICE, which will promptly deport him. Carlos Antonio Hernandez and Lucilo Cabrera have both been convicted in the extortion scheme, but are awaiting their sentences. Meanwhile, Betancourt is likely to live out his remaining days in prison.

Meanwhile, folks are pointing out the similarities between Betancourt’s crimes and Trump’s policies. 

Credit: Twitter

“Strangely enough, Trump is doing the exact same thing……” tweeted Raul A. Maestri, Jr (@itsgoodtoberaul). “Can he charge Trump with the same?” asks Justin Clay (@jclaywow32). “I hope that man was named Donald J Trump,” tweeted @LindaMadison10. Trump’s administration has seen an increase in privatization of immigrant detention facilities. The stricter the punishments placed on immigrants, the more money private detention centers receive from the federal government. 

Trump’s policies have drastically increased the number of migrants in detention and privatized detention facility political action committees like the GEO Group Inc contribute 89 percent of their political donations to Republicans.

READ: Senior Border Patrol Officer Gets To Retire After Allegedly Kidnapping And Sexually Assaulting Another Agent

This Study Just Identified The Most Migrant-Friendly Cities In The US And The List Might Surprise You

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This Study Just Identified The Most Migrant-Friendly Cities In The US And The List Might Surprise You

One of the biggest misconceptions that the world has about the United States and its approach to migration, particularly during the Trump administration, is that immigrants are facing rejection everywhere. It is important to explain, however, that federal policies for which the White House and State Departments are responsible sometimes run contrary to what states and even city officials do. 

That is the case of immigrant policies: states like California, for example, have often disagreed with federal authorities in issues such as sanctuary cities. In turn, cities like Chicago, for example, boost and celebrate migration and the multicultural prism that it generates, and run programs that attempt to make new arrivals feel welcome and become a part of the wider community. 

A new study has revealed which cities are most welcoming for migrants, fostering their incorporation into the wider community and encouraging diversity and cultural exchange.

Credit: New American Economy

The study was conducted by New American Economy, a bipartisan research group that is doing work on Immigration Reform. This is the second annual city-index. New American Economy was established by very wealthy corporate executives and mayors including Michael Bloomberg and Rupert Murdoch. The group’s webpage states its aim: “fighting for smart federal, state, and local immigration policies that help grow our economy and create jobs for all Americans”.

The group conducts high-end research and they have found that migrants are very important to the economy (duh! did you need all that research to find that out?).

In their first report they found out that “more than 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children – a key takeaway that has shifted perspectives and laid the foundation for better conversations about the role of immigrants in our economy and society”. Yessir! The study took into account cities that met these criteria: “Total population is more than 200,000 people. Foreign-born population is more than 10,000 people. The share of total population that is foreign-born is more than 3.6 percent”. 

Chicago reigns supreme! The jewel of the Midwest.

Credit: Crain’s Chicago Business

As a region, the Midwest was the most accomodating site for new arrivals. So why was Chicago ranked on top? Because it provides a better environment for social, political and economic integration. The city’s mayor Lori Lightfoot was, of course, superhappy, and said in a statement: “We are tremendously proud Chicago has been named the most welcoming city in America for immigrants and refugees. This ranking reflects the passionate and dedicated work of countless public officials and community members across our city who have come together to stand up and fight for the rights of our immigrant and refugee communities, no matter the cost”. Preach!

Let’s not forget that Chicago’s history is full of migratory waves from Greece, Poland, Mexico, Italy… basically people from all over the world have contributed to the economic and social fabric of the city. 

Second place, Chula Vista, California… and the state as a whole is pretty well ranked.

Credit: Port Of San Diego

It is interesting how the border state of California has a total of four cities in the top 10. Common sense could dictate that the states closer to the border would face more challenges when it comes to migration, but the study reveals that California is using its history to develop better programs for integration. The state is in a key geopolitical position: bordering Mexico and the conflicted entry point of Tijuana, but also with a shore in the Pacific Ocean which encourages ties with Asia and Oceania.  Chula Vista got perfect scores for Economic Empowerment, Community, and Inclusivity. Well done! 

A very honorable third spot: Jersey City.

Credit: Jersey Digs

Jersey is sometimes seen as secondary to New York City, but it is the third place, a great win in itself. According to the report: “The city earns high marks for Government Leadership, Inclusivity, and Community, among others. Economic Empowerment and Civic Participation are two areas where the city could improve”. 

4th… San Francisco, California, the entryway for many Asian migrants.

Credit: AARP

San Francisco’s history is tightly linked to migration. This city has attracted multiple groups since the Gold Rush, up to the dotcom era when many young professionals arrived in the city looking for that big breakthrough. According to the report, the city scores great in most areas but is expensive: “The city boasts impressive marks across the board in all policy categories. There is room to improve when it comes to Livability, which takes into things such as cost of living and educational attainment levels”.

Yes, the city is very expensive for anyone… one of the most costly in the world. But those views, though!