Two U.S. citizens say Border Patrol agent detained them for speaking Spanish

Ana Suda

A Montana woman and her friend — both U.S. citizens — say a Border Patrol agent detained them at a gas station after he overheard them speaking Spanish.

Ana Suda told The Washington Post  that she and her friend, Mimi Hernandez, took a midnight trip to pick up eggs and milk at a gas station in Havre, Mont., early Wednesday.

The pair are both Mexican-American. Suda was born in Texas and Hernandez is from California, according to the Post.

{mosads} The women were speaking Spanish while in line at the register when a uniformed Border Patrol agent reportedly interrupted and asked to see IDs.

“I looked at him like, ‘Are you serious?’ He’s like, ‘Yeah, very serious,’” Suda told the newspaper.

She began to film the encounter.

“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,” the agent says in the video.

Havre is a rural community about 35 miles south of the U.S.-Canada border and Suda said there are a lot of Border Patrol agents because of the proximity to Canada.

The agent then denies that the incident is racial profiling.

“It has nothing to do with that,” the agent tells her. “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.”

Even after seeing their IDs, Suda said he kept them in the parking lot for upwards of 40 minutes.

“I was so embarrassed … being outside in the gas station, and everybody’s looking at you like you’re doing something wrong. I don’t think speaking Spanish is something criminal, you know?” Suda told the Post. “My friend, she started crying. She didn’t stop crying in the truck. And I told her, we are not doing anything wrong.”

A representative from U.S. Customs and Border Patrol told the newspaper that the agency is reviewing the incident.

“U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents and officers are committed to treating everyone with professionalism, dignity and respect while enforcing the laws of the United States,” the agency said.

Border Patrol agents have broad law enforcement powers near the borders but they are not limited to a specific geography, the agency said. 

“They have the authority to question individuals, make arrests, and take and consider evidence,” the representative told the Post. 

Suda said she will contact the American Civil Liberties Union for legal help. The organization did not immediately respond to the Post’s request for comment.

“I just don’t want this to happen anymore,” Suda said. “I want people to know they have the right to speak whatever language they want. I think that’s the most important part, to help somebody else.”

Tags Montana Montana Spanish spanish-speaking U.S. Customs and Border Protection

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