Two U.S. citizens, Ana Suda and Mimi Hernandez, are suing U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) after they say an agent illegally detained them for speaking Spanish.
Suda and Hernandez recorded video of Border Patrol agent Paul O’Neill admitting that he asked them for their identification because he overheard them speaking Spanish while they were waiting in line to buy groceries at a convenience store in Havre, Montana in 2018.
“The reason I asked you for your ID is because I came in here and I saw that you guys are speaking Spanish, which is very unheard of up here,” O’Neill said in the video.
“You don’t have the right to stop me just because I speak Spanish, and you know that,” Suda is heard saying in response.
Now, they’re alleging the agent violated their due process rights under the Fifth Amendment, saying they were targeted based on their race.
“He asked us where we were born first,” Suda said. “After that, he said he needs to see our IDs. I’m not doing anything wrong. Why do I need to feel like I need to give him my ID?”
“My daughter was like, ‘Mommy, are you sure we can speak Spanish?’ I said something to her in Spanish and she answered in English, because she’s scared,” Suda continued. “This changed our lives, I believe, forever.”
The Associated Press reported Friday that Suda and Hernandez are suing CBP — an agency within Trump’s Department of Homeland Security — for an unspecified amount of compensation, and are also seeking an order from a federal judge barring U.S. Border Patrol agents from detaining people based on race, ethnicity, and language. The two women are being represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
“Speaking Spanish does not establish reasonable suspicion justifying a stop and detention, much less probable cause for an arrest,” said ACLU Alex Rate.
Havre, Montana, where the two women live, is located within the vicinity of the U.S./Canada border, as well as two Native American reservations, meaning the U.S. Border Patrol is active in the area. According to U.S. Census Bureau data, the city is 81 percent white and only 3.9 percent Hispanic/Latino.
Grit Post reached out to O’Neill for comment on this story. After identifying ourselves, O’Neill hung up.
Carl Gibson is a politics contributor for Grit Post. His work has previously been published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Houston Chronicle, Al-Jazeera America, and NPR, among others. Follow him on Twitter @crgibs or send him an email at carl at gritpost dot com.