Lawsuit alleges CBP detained citizens for speaking Spanish

Customs and Border Protection illegally detained two U.S. citizens because an agent heard them speaking Spanish, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday. 

The agent "singled them out based on race, relying on their use of Spanish as a justification and proxy for race," Ana Suda and Martha Hernandez allege in the suit. 

Suda and Hernandez were shopping and chatting in Spanish at a convenience store in Havre, Montana, in May 2018 when CBP agent Paul O'Neal got behind them in line, they said in court. Hernandez said she greeted O'Neal, and he responded by commenting on her accent and asking the women where they were born.


Suda told him she was from Texas and Hernandez said she was from California, after which O'Neal demanded to see their identification, they said in the lawsuit. 

“Ma’am the reason I asked you for your ID is because I came in here and saw that you guys are speaking Spanish, which is very unheard of up here,” O’Neal allegedly told them. “It has to do with you guys speaking Spanish in the store in a state where it’s predominantly English speaking.”

The women said in court that O'Neal and his supervisor held them there for about 40 minutes. 

Suda asked the supervisor if they would have been questioned if they were speaking French and the supervisor said "no, we don't do that."  according to the lawsuit. 

"Because there was no legitimate reason to detain Ms. Suda and Ms. Hernandez, their seizure violated the Fourth Amendment," the suit said.

CBP did not immediately respond to The Hill's request for comment.