Alexandria Ocasio-cortez Grills DHS Chief on How '10,000 Officers in a Violent, Racist Group Sharing Rape Memes' Doesn't Point to a 'Dehumanized Culture'

New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez confronted acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan on Thursday over the "dehumanizing culture" she said appeared to be pervasive within Border Patrol. Her comments came after a secret "violent, racist" Facebook group sharing rape memes of members of Congress came to light.

The exchange unfolded during a congressional hearing on Thursday, in which McAleenan sought to assure lawmakers that his department was carrying out an "aggressive" investigation into the secret Facebook group. More than 9,000 current and former Border Patrol agents were reported to be a part of the group, according to ProPublica.

‘You don’t think that having 10,000 officers in a violent, racist group sharing rape memes of members of Congress points to any concern of a dehumanized culture?’ — @AOC pressed DHS Sec. Kevin McAleenan after he denied a dehumanized culture within Border Patrol

— NowThis (@nowthisnews) July 18, 2019

In addition to featuring derogatory posts about members of Congress, including Ocasio-Cortez, the group also joked about the deaths of migrants at the border.

"Did you see the posts mocking migrant children's deaths?" Ocasio-Cortez asked McAleenan during the hearing.

"I did," he responded.

"Did you see the posts planning physical harm to myself and Congresswoman Escobar?"

"Yes and I directed an investigation within minutes of reading the article," he responded.

"Did you see the images of officers circulating photoshopped images of my violent rape?" she asked.

"Yes, I did," McAleenan confirmed.

Asked whether the Border Patrol agents who took part in the group are "on the job today and responsible for the safety of migrant women and children," McAleenan asserted that "there's an aggressive investigation on this issue proceeding."

"You've heard the chief of the Border Patrol, the most senior female official on law enforcement across the entire country say that these posts do not meet our standards of conduct and they will be followed up aggressively," he said.

While McAleenan championed the words of Border Patrol Chief Carla Provost, however, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency has refused to respond to questions, including from Newsweek, as to whether Provost herself was at one point a member of the group. The Intercept has reported that she had at one point taken part in it and, therefore, would have been aware of the group.

Despite the sexism and racism displayed within the secret Facebook group, when Ocasio-Cortez asked McAleenan whether he believed Border Patrol agents' participation and posts within the group "points to any concern of a dehumanized culture," McAleenan said no.

Ocasio-Cortez also suggested that the Trump administration's "zero-tolerance" family separation policy might have played a role in fostering such a "dehumanized culture."

"Did you consider the dehumanizing effect on the officers, specifically, in child separation and forcing them to take children away from their parents?" she asked McAleenan.

"Enforcing the law often has emotional impacts for everybody involved and that's something that they sign up for, but its something we want to provide resilient services, mental health support, for anyone who needs it," he responded.

"Do you think 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?" she asked.

"We do not have a dehumanizing culture at CBP," McAleenan insisted. "This is an agency that rescues 4,000 people a year, that's absolutely committed to the well-being of everyone that they interact with."

"I don't believe there's a dehumanizing culture," he said.

"Mr. Secretary, so you don't think that having 10,000 officers in a violent, racist group sharing rape memes of members of Congress points to any concern of a dehumanized culture?" Ocasio-Cortez asked.

"Congresswoman, those posts are unacceptable. They're being investigated, but I don't think it's fair to apply them to the entire organization, or that even the members of that group believed or supported those posts," he said.

Recently, it came to light that a U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent had been accused of seeking out and sexually harassing an undocumented Guatemalan mother living in California, while her 12-year-old son was being held in the Border Patrol station where he worked in Clint, Texas.

According to an April complaint, which was obtained by The Washington Post, the mother alleged that the CBP agent had asked for her Facebook handle after she was allowed to speak with her son.

Thinking that the agent might relay information about her son to her on social media, the mother said she was disturbed to instead receive sexually explicit messages from him, including one message asking her to watch a live video of him masturbating.

CBP spokesperson Stephanie Malin told Newsweek the agency was aware of the allegations and said it was "investigating this matter."

"The vast majority of CBP employees are dedicated, honest, compassionate and fair professionals," she asserted, adding: "This alleged conduct is not in line with our code of conduct and will not be tolerated."

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) speaks during a House Oversight and Reform Committee holds a hearing on 'The Trump Administration's Child Separation Policy: Substantiated Allegations of Mistreatment.' July 12, 2019 in Washington, D.C. Ocasio-Cortez has grilled DHS acting secretary Kevin McAleenan on a "dehumanizing culture" within the Border Patrol. Win McNamee/Getty