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Two women detained by border agents for speaking Spanish settle with agency

Two women who were detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents at a convenience store near the U.S.-Canada border after an officer heard them speaking Spanish reached a legal settlement Tuesday with the agency.

In a press release, the ACLU of Montana said that Ana Suda and Martha "Mimi" Hernandez had reached an undisclosed settlement with the agency while adding that local backlash surrounding the case had forced the two to move from Havre, Montana, where the incident occurred in May 2018.

"Through the lawsuit, it was revealed that local CBP agents have engaged in a longstanding pattern of abusive seizures and investigations. Agents from the local administrative CBP unit - known as the 'Havre Sector' - have repeatedly targeted Latinx individuals without justification, often based on their race," the ACLU of Montana said in the press release.

Video of the incident showed an agent admitting that he was detaining the two women for speaking Spanish, which he claimed was an irregularity in the majority-white area of Havre.

Throughout the course of the legal case, the ACLU of Montana claimed, U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents admitted that they regularly view people who do not fit the description of a typical Havre resident - particularly if they are not white - with suspicion.

"As if the racism they experienced at the hands of CBP agents were not enough, our clients also bore the brunt of local backlash as a result of coming forward. They both ultimately left Havre for fear of their families' safety," said Caitlin Borgmann, the ACLU of Montana's executive director.

"We stood up to the government because speaking Spanish is not a reason to be racially profiled and harassed. I am proud to be bilingual, and I hope that as a result of this case CBP takes a hard look at its policies and practices," added Suda in a statement released by the ACLU of Montana. "No one else should ever have to go through this again."

CBP officials noted to The Hill in an emailed statement that the settlement did not involve the agency admitting liability or fault over the issue.

"CBP stresses honor and integrity in every aspect of our mission, and the overwhelming majority of CBP employees and officers perform their duties with honor and distinction, working tirelessly every day to keep our country safe. CBP officers and agents are trained to enforce U.S. laws uniformly and fairly and they do not discriminate based on religion, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation," said a spokesperson for the agency.

Updated at 8:30 p.m. with a statement from CBP.

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