U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents allegedly forced a Honduran migrant to hold a sign reading “I like men” in an attempt to humiliate him.
According to emails obtained by CNN, the alleged incident took place at El Paso Processing Center in Texas on March 5.
An agent who witnessed the incident said that another agent forced a Honduran man to hold a handwritten sign reading “Me gustan los hombre[s].”
The agent then told the man to walk in front of other migrants who had been detained at the center, while a third agent laughed.
The witnessing agent noted that the Honduran man was upset and took the note away. They then approached the other two agents and noted the unprofessional nature of the incident.
According to an email from the agent to their supervisor, in total seven agents witnessed the incident, including two senior agents.
The witnessing agent said that they told a senior agent about the alleged incident after it had occurred, but that no action was taken — allegedly part of a pattern of no response at the center.
In the emails, the agent notes that this incident was one of many in which other agents acted unprofessionally and management took no action.
A Customs and Border Patrol official told CNN: “I am forwarding to the Office of Professional Responsibility, the office charged with looking into these allegations.”
The Texas allegations come after Kevin McAleenan, Acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, ordered a probe into the conduct of CBP agents.
McAleenan promised an investigation after ProPublica published excerpts from a secret Facebook group in which alleged border patrol agents joked about migrant deaths and made racist jokes.
“Reporting this week highlighted disturbing & inexcusable social media activity that allegedly includes active Border Patrol personnel,” McAleenan wrote on Twitter. “These statements are completely unacceptable, especially if made by those sworn to uphold the @DHSgov mission, our values & standards of conduct.
“I have directed an immediate investigation, and as the @USBPChief has made clear, any employee found to have compromised the public’s trust in our law enforcement mission will be held accountable,” he continued. “They do not represent the men and women of the Border Patrol or @DHSgov.”
The investigation comes amid widespread reporting of conditions at detention centers, including migrants being forced to drink water from toilets, children being denied access to soap and clean clothes, and an internal U.S. watchdog noting “dangerous overcrowding” in detention centers.
The treatment of LGTBQ people in detention centers has also been a frequent point of contention for advocacy groups.
In March, LGBTQ advocacy groups wrote to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) demanding to speak to officials about “rampant sexual harassment, medical neglect, and retaliation against transgender women and gay men” at Otero County Processing Center in New Mexico.
Otero center was where 25-year-old transgender woman Johana Medina Leon, from El Salvador, was detained, prior to her death on June 1.
Medina asked to be tested for HIV on May 28 and received a positive result. She was taken to Del Sol Medical Center that same day after complaining of chest pains, and died four days later.
Her death came one year after the death of Roxsana Hernández Rodriguez, 33, who died of cardiac arrest while in ICE custody on May 25, 2018.
Hernández was taken to hospital a week prior to her death with symptoms of pneumonia, dehydration, and complications associated with HIV.
An autopsy in November suggested that she had likely been physically abused prior to her death, with deep bruising and evidence of blunt-force trauma and injuries from handcuffs.
Her death was noted to have been most likely caused by “severe complications of dehydration superimposed upon HIV infection,” and according to other detainees she had received “no medical evaluation or treatment” despite “diarrhea and vomiting episodes” which “persisted over multiple days” prior to her hospitalization.