A large, framed photo of far-right commentator Tomi Lahren posing with US Border Patrol officials hangs prominently on the wall of the agency’s headquarters in Washington, DC. A person with access to the area described the setting and shared a picture of it with Quartz.
Lahren, a vocal supporter of US president Donald Trump, has called immigrants “shifty and adaptable,” and has claimed they are bringing disease to the US. She regularly pushes alt-right conspiracy theories and believes an “invasion by foreigners” is “overwhelming” the country. She has also lashed out at Black Lives Matter, comparing the social justice movement to the Ku Klux Klan. She now hosts a talk show on the Fox Nation streaming service.
In the photo, Lahren is posing with (from left to right), Benjamine “Carry” Huffman, executive assistant commissioner for enterprise services at US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Border Patrol deputy chief Scott Luck, an unidentified man in a suit, Border Patrol chief Carla Provost, an unidentified member of the Border Patrol’s senior executive staff (in suit), and Richard Hudson, CBP’s acting chief for law enforcement.
The photo is more evidence of widespread anti-immigrant sentiment at Border Patrol, whose members are often the first US law enforcement officers to interact with migrants when they cross the border. That the photo hangs at the agency’s Washington headquarters suggests that the culture exists at the very top of the agency.
A ProPublica investigation surfaced a private Facebook page used by Border Patrol agents, where some 9,500 members post and interact with racist and xenophobic memes about migrants and members of Congress who have raised human rights concerns at US immigration detention camps. “Scumbuckets,” “beaners,” and “subhuman” were some of the least-offensive words agents used in the Facebook group to describe migrants.
The photo of Lahren and Border Patrol brass was until recently the first thing greeting anyone who entered Border Patrol headquarters on the sixth floor of the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center at 1300 Pennsylvania Ave., about a half mile from the White House. It hung in the reception area next to the Border Patrol insignia just beyond a glass entrance to the office. It has now been moved farther back in the wing, where it hangs in a hallway near the offices of several agency chiefs.
A CBP spokesperson said the agency often prints and rotates “hundreds of photographs” to hang on its office walls.
“Photos depict a wide range of operations, training exercises, and external engagements with parties including Administration officials, members of Congress, press, international partners, and others,” the spokesperson told Quartz.
Lahren tweeted the photo in August 2018.
The building where Border Patrol has its offices also houses other CBP branches, as well as the US Agency for International Development.
Lahren’s affinity for the Border Patrol is no secret. She has called its agents “humanitarians.”
At the same time, she has repeatedly demeaned immigrants in her commentary, calling for support of Trump’s controversial immigration policy.
“You don’t just come into this country with low skills, low education, not understanding the language and come into our country because someone says it makes them feel nice,” Lahren told Fox News host Jesse Watters last year. “That’s not what this country is based on.”
However, as genealogist Jennifer Mendelsohn pointed out the day after Lahren’s appearance, that is exactly how the Lahren family originally came to the US in the late 1800s.
Records reviewed by Mendelsohn revealed Lahren’s great-great-great-grandmother spoke only German when she arrived in the US and, according to the 1930 census, still didn’t speak English after 41 years. Lahren’s great-great-grandmother spoke no English after a full decade in the US, and Lahren’s great-grandfather’s 1895 baptism, which took place in Minnesota, was recorded in Norwegian.
“What’s worrying is that the intolerance and contempt for migrants afoot within the agency have only been encouraged by Mr. Trump, whose constant disparagement of migrants is a hallmark of his rhetoric,” the Washington Post editorial board wrote this week. “Little wonder it has found echoes in the far bureaucratic reaches of his administration.”
As the Trump administration’s new “zero tolerance” policy of prosecuting all illegal immigrants continues, tens of thousands of migrants are being held in overcrowded detention centers as they await overloaded courts to process their cases. Conditions in the camps have come under close scrutiny.
Migrants are packed into overcrowded cage-like housing, living in filthy conditions amid outbreaks of mumps, scabies, chickenpox, and shingles. One physician observed “extreme cold temperatures, lights on 24 hours a day, no adequate access to medical care, basic sanitation, water, or adequate food,” in one detention center in McAllen, Texas last month. The conditions, the physician wrote, “could be compared to torture facilities.”