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Emails show Border Patrol often used anti-immigrant slur

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Border Patrol used an anti-immigrant slur (Photo: Shutterstock)
  • Border Patrol used an anti-immigrant slur.
  • Emails raise concerns about institutional discrimination.
  • It occurred at all levels.

In a revealing and disturbing discovery, documents obtained by HuffPost have revealed Border Patrol agents regularly used an anti-immigrant slur.

The widespread use of the highly derogatory term was exposed in emails and texts.

It was even used by agents in supervisory roles.

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The term in question, «tonk,» has been routinely used to refer to unauthorized migrants, documents show.

These text messages and emails were revealed under the Freedom of Information Act, according to HuffPost.

This discriminatory and racist language has been a cause for concern both inside and outside the agency, including with higher-ups in Washington.

The Border Patrol urges agents to refrain from using this type of language under threat of disciplinary action.

Origin and meaning of the term ‘tonk’

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Despite the warnings, the term continues to be used surprisingly regularly, even in official communications.

This reflects an underlying hostility toward migrants, most of whom are fleeing humanitarian crises and economic disasters in Latin America.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has not responded to questions about whether any disciplinary action has been taken against those who have used the term.

The origin of the term «tonk» is uncertain. Some suggest it is an acronym for «Traveler, Origin Not Known» or «Traveler Outside Native Country.»

Criticism and warnings about the use of the anti-immigrant slur

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Others say it refers to the sound of a violent blow to the head of a migrant with a flashlight or service baton.

Internal communications reveal that this term, which does not refer a specific race, has been used in a derogatory manner.

The use of the term «tonk» has drawn criticism both within and outside the agency, particularly following the merger of the Border Patrol with the Department of Homeland Security in 2003.

Alonzo Peña, former deputy director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, expressed concern about the use of this derogatory language, considering it an abuse of authority.

The agency claims to promote equity and institutional respect

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The agency has repeatedly reiterated its ban on derogatory terms, saying they undermine public trust in the Border Patrol.

However, the persistent use of the term “tonk” reflects an entrenched culture of discrimination and hostility towards migrants.

In 2019, Customs and Border Protection issued guidance that made clear that the term «tonk» is not appropriate and will not be tolerated.

However, its use continues to be a concern to authorities and an insult to immigrants.

Stop discrimination and racism

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An email sent by a watch commander at Wellton Station contained the  term “American TONK” and the comment “The future…” with a link to a news story about a Hispanic woman, according to HuffPost.

This raises questions about the effectiveness of existing policies and the need for greater oversight.

It is evident that the fight against discrimination and racism in government institutions must be a priority, especially in this context.

It is expected that the agency will take the necessary measures to put a stop to the use of the term.

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