A Montana Border Patrol agent admitted on camera that he stopped and detained 2 U.S. citizens at a gas station only because he heard them speaking Spanish.
The incident occurred Wednesday morning last week at a convenience store in Havre, Montana, near the Canadian border, reported The Washington Post.
Ana Suda, 37, and her friend Mimi Hernandez were speaking to each other in Spanish while waiting in line to pay when the agent interrupted them and asked for their IDs.
“We were just talking, and then I was going to pay,” Suda told the Post. “I looked up [and saw the agent], and then after that, he just requested my ID. I looked at him like, ‘Are you serious?’ He’s like, ‘Yeah, very serious.’”
Suda immediately realized they were being discriminated against simply for speaking Spanish, so she started recording the interaction.
Suda, immediately recognizing the situation for what it was, felt uncomfortable and began recording the incident.
On video, Suda asks him why they are being detained.
“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 said.
Answering Suda’s question about profiling, the agent says they are not being profiled, but they clearly are being profiled because they did nothing wrong.
“It has nothing to do with that,” the agent, who gave his name as agent O’Neal, claimed. “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.”
The Post reported that Suda was born in El Paso, Texas, and Hernandez is originally from Central California.
Even though they did nothing wrong and were completely compliant, the women were detained for 35-40 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 said. “My friend, she started crying. She didn’t stop crying in the truck. And I told her, we are not doing anything wrong.”
Suda’s 7-year-old daughter is now worried that she will not be allowed to speak Spanish in public anymore out of fear of being targeted for being educated enough to be bilingual.
“She speaks Spanish and she speaks English,” Suda said. “When she saw the video, she was like, ‘Mom, we can’t speak Spanish anymore?’ I said ‘No. You be proud. You are smart. You speak two languages.’ This is more for her.”
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency is allegedly 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. “Although most Border Patrol work is conducted in the immediate border area, agents have broad law enforcement authorities and are not limited to a specific geography within the United States. They have the authority to question individuals, make arrests, and take and consider evidence.”
Suda intends to contact the ACLU to help others avoid being illegally targeted by officers.
“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.”