Ana Suda and Martha Hernandez, who were both born in the United States, were detained by US Customs and Border Protection for speaking Spanish a Montana convenience store. The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a federal lawsuit against the agency on their behalf.
Video captured by one of the women shows a Border Patrol questioning them after he said he heard them speaking Spanish at a convenience store in Havre, Montana in May of 2018.
The lawsuit says the Border Patrol agent, Paul O’Neal, “singled out, detained, and interrogated” for speaking Spanish and “offered no other justification for their detention.”
The suit alleges that the women’s Fourth Amendment rights were violated because there was “no legitimate reason to detain” them.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Ana Suda & Martha Hernandez Were Stopped by Border Patrol for Speaking Spanish
Ana Suda, who was born in El Paso, Texas, and Martha Hernandez, who was born in El Centro, California, were buying eggs and milk at a store in Havre, Montana when they were stopped by O’Neal, NBC News reported.
“He asked us where we were born, so I looked at him and I said, ‘Are you serious?'” Suda told the network. “He said, ‘I’m very serious.'”
O’Neal asked the two women for their IDs and the three went outside of the store where Suda began to record the incident on her phone.
2. Suda and Hernandez Recorded Part of the Exchange
Video shows O’Neal explicitly tell the women that he stopped them because he overheard them speaking Spanish.
“Ma’am, 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’Neal says in the video.
Suda questioned O’Neal whether he was racially profiling her and her friend.
“It has nothing to do with that,” he said. “It’s the fact that it has to do with you guys speaking Spanish in the store, in a state where it’s predominantly English-speaking.”
Suda told NBC News that they were detained for 35-40 minutes.
3. Lawsuit Says Border Patrol Violated Suda & Hernandez’s Constitutional Rights
A lawsuit filed by the ACLU against Customs and Border Protection (CBP), its commissioner, O’Neal, and others accuses the agency of violating Suda and Hernandez’s Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure because there was “no legitimate reason to detain” them.
The suit says O’Neal “singled out, detained, and interrogated” the women “because he heard them speaking Spanish,” adding that he “singled them out based on race, relying on their use of Spanish as a justification and proxy for race.”
The ACLU said in a statement that the women have been “shunned and harassed by other town residents” since the incident.
“This changed our lives, I believe, forever,” Suda said in the statement.
4. ACLU Calls on CBP to Stop Profiling Spanish-Speaking People
Along with seeking compensatory damages for the women, the ACLU lawsuit called on CBP to stop detaining people based on their race, accent, or if they speak Spanish when there is no reasonable suspicion of a crime.
CBP said it does not comment on pending legal cases but added that “lack of comment should not be construed as agreement or stipulation with any of the allegations.”
CBP told NBC News in May that the incident was being reviewed. CBP policy states that agents cannot stop someone based solely on their race or ethnicity.
The agency is “committed to treating everyone with professionalism, dignity and respect while enforcing the laws of the United States,” a spokesperson told the network in May.
5. CBP Under Fire for Stopping People Inside US Borders
CBP is allowed to detain people within 100 miles of the US border.
There have been numerous reports of CBP agents boarding buses nearly 100 miles away from the border to question passengers about their citizenship.
Last month, Oregon comedian Mohanad Elshieky, who came to the United States as a refugee, detailed his detention by immigration agents after he was forced off a Greyhound bus from Spokane, Washington to Portland.
“They walked around before they asked me and few others to step outside and took my documents and interrogated me for around 20 mins then claimed my papers were fake and that I’m ‘illegal,’” he wrote.
“I explained to them that I was granted Asylum here in the United States, and that the work permit they currently hold and the license are impossible to get unless your presence here is legal,” he wrote on Twitter. “They told me that I was lying and these could pretty much be falsified.”
“They handed my documents back and said ‘next time, have your papers on you’ which means nothing because I did and they said they were fake,” he added.