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US citizens sue CBP, claim they were detained for speaking Spanish

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Two US citizens have filed a federal lawsuit against Customs and Border Control, claiming that they were illegally detained after being heard speaking Spanish in public.

Ana Suda and Mimi Hernandez, who live in Montana, say they were at the Town Pump convenience store in Havre, Montana, when a border patrol officer demanded to see identification.

In video footage the pair say was recorded at the scene, the officer says he asked to see their IDs because “I saw you guys are speaking Spanish.”

They allege in the lawsuit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on Thursday, that the agent “singled them out based on race, relying on their use of Spanish as a justification and proxy for race.”

They claim that they greeted the officer, who then asked where they were born. Suda said she was from Texas and Hernandez said she was from California and the officer then asked to see their identification, the lawsuit alleges.

The women filmed the May 2018 encounter with the border patrol agent, named in the lawsuit as Paul O’Neal.

In the video, shared by the ACLU, one of the pair asks the agent: “So can you tell us in the video, please, why you asked us for our IDs, please?”

The agent responds: “Ma’am, the reason I asked you for your ID is because I came in here and I saw you guys are speaking Spanish, which is very unheard of up here.”

Read more: A former Afghan interpreter who reportedly helped US troops was detained in Texas and threatened with deportation

One of the women then accuses the officer of racial profiling. “This is just because of our profiles, right? Racial profiles?” she asked.

A border patrol agent filmed by the women when he asked to see their IDs.
YouTube/ACLU

The officer then responds: “No, it has nothing to do with that. It’s just the fact that it has to do with you guys speaking Spanish in the store.”

He said they were speaking Spanish “in a state where it’s predominantly English speaking.”

One of the women later tells the agent in the video: “You don’t have the right to stop me just because I speak Spanish, and you know that.”

You can watch the video here:

The women said in the lawsuit that O’Neal and his supervisor detained them for about 40 minutes.

They claim that Huda asked the supervisor if they would be similarly detained if they had been speaking French, and the supervisor responded “no, we don’t do that.”

Read more:A pediatrician explains how migrant children can grow severely ill in Border Patrol custody before anyone notices — and what the agency needs to do about it

In a video interview with the ACLU, the women said that they have been harassed in their town since they publicly shared details of the incident.

Suda said that her daughter doesn’t want to speak Spanish as a result: “My daughter was also like, ‘Mommy, are you sure we can speak Spanish?’ I said something in Spanish and she answered to me in English because she’s scared. This changed our lives, I believe, forever.”

“To me it’s important to help the community, to help them know that they can speak whatever they want.”

Ana Suda and her daughter.
YouTube/ACLU

The ACLU said that the detention “violated Ana and Mimi’s constitutional rights.”

“In fact, there is no official language in the United States — Americans speak hundreds of different languages,” the ACLU said.

“Over 40 million U.S. citizens speak Spanish at home with their families, and tens of millions more speak Spanish as a secondary language. And Montana, like the rest of the country, is increasingly diverse in terms of race, ethnicity, and language.”

A spokesman for Customs and Border Protection told CNN that it has a policy not to speak on pending litigation.

“However, lack of comment should not be construed as agreement or stipulation with any of the allegations,” he said. The agency had told CNN when the video footage first went public that the agency and its officers “are committed to treating everyone with professionalism, dignity and respect while enforcing the laws of the United States.”

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