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Other Voices: Border Patrol agents must represent American values, too

Austin American-Statesman

Ugly and unconscionable.

While many of us felt sorrow or outrage over the deaths of migrants at border detention facilities, some federal agents reacted with “indifference and wisecracks,” according to a report this past week by ProPublica revealing scores of offensive posts inside a private Facebook group for current and former Border Patrol agents. The May death of a 16-year-old Guatemalan boy at a Border Patrol station in Weslaco, for instance, prompted one agent to post an animated picture of Elmo saying, “Oh well.”

Americans remain divided over the best approach to immigration policy and the crush of migrants at our southern border, many of whom are seeking asylum. But there should be no debate that people in U.S. custody should be treated in a humane, professional way.

It is hard to see how that could be the case when so many agents participate in a Facebook forum with racist, misogynist and hateful posts. Daniel Martinez, a sociologist at the University of Arizona in Tucson who reviewed postings from the 9,500-member Facebook group “I’m 10-15” (the code for having an unauthorized immigrant in custody), told ProPublica the group reflects “a pervasive culture of cruelty aimed at immigrants within (Customs and Border Protection). This isn’t just a few rogue agents or ‘bad apples.’ ”

We recognize the federal government has long faced difficulty filling vacancies at Border Patrol. The jobs are often dangerous, often based in desolate areas, and simply don’t pay as well as other Homeland Security positions. We also worry in our present political climate, with President Donald Trump championing policies that tear families apart, Border Patrol is more likely to attract and retain agents who share his callous view toward immigrants.

It’s a shame the bad actions of some agents cast a shadow over those who strive to do their job effectively and ethically. Attorneys who recently visited child detention facilities said they met some guards who recognized children don’t belong in lockup and wanted to see the kids moved to a more appropriate place.

Other agents who engaged in vile speech online, however, need to go. By their own words, they have proven themselves unable to do their job fairly, and unworthy of representing the U.S. government in any uniform.

Today's Bible verse

“Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’ ”

Hebrews 13:5

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