Two American women say they were detained and questioned by a Montana Border Patrol agent for no reason other than they spoke to each other in Spanish, KVIA-TV (El Paso) is reporting.
Ana Suda says she plans to file a lawsuit against the government agency, both for what she and her friend went through that day and on behalf of the Latino community at large.
Suda, who was born in El Paso, Texas, and raised in the Mexican border town of Ciudad Juarez, was in Montana when she and her friend stopped by a convenience store for supplies. While they were waiting in line to pay for their goods, Suda says her friend said something to her in Spanish. She turned around and a Border Patrol agent was behind her.
“Ma’am, the reason I asked you for your I.D. is because I came and saw that you guys were speaking Spanish which is very unheard of up here.”
Suda then decided that the best course of action was to grab her cell phone and record the interaction – which, by the way, might be perfectly legal, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). She told the agent, who identified himself only as “Agent O’Neal,” that she would be going outside to get her cell phone and record him.
“She asked why is this happening to us saying, ‘What did we do wrong? Because we said something in Spanish?’ and it’s embarrassing, people look at you like you did something wrong.”
Whether or not the agent’s actions were legal is likely a matter of interpretation. According to the ACLU, it’s illegal for agents to stop and question people on the basis of their “race, national origin, sex, religion or ethnicity.” Further, “if you are approached on the street or in a public place, you do not have to answer agents’ questions or provide identification.”
However, according to a companion ACLU report, if you’re within 100 miles of either border, all bets are off. That’s because the government deems that constitutional principles “do not apply” so close to the border.
“At border crossings (also called ‘ports of entry’), federal authorities do not need a warrant or even suspicion of wrongdoing to justify conducting what courts have called a ‘routine search,’ such as searching luggage or a vehicle.”
Suda, who has a 7-year-old daughter who speaks English and Spanish fluently, says she doesn’t want her own child to have to go through the same thing based on which of her two languages she chooses to speak.