Latinas Settle Lawsuit with CBP After Being Stopped for Speaking Spanish in Montana


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U.S. citizens Ana Suda and Martha “Mimi” Hernandez, were detained in 2018 by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) for speaking Spanish while shopping at a local convenience store in Havre, Montana, and this week they reached a settlement in their lawsuit against the Trump administration. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Montana shared in a press release that they received an undisclosed monetary sum. The women recorded the interaction where they asked him why he stopped them and he responded that speaking Spanish in the area is not common.

“So can you tell us in the video please why you asked us for our IDs please?” one of the women asks him. “Ma’am the reason I asked you for your IDs is because I came in here and I saw that you guys were speaking Spanish, which is very unheard of up here,” he said.

The ACLU said in the press release that the interaction brought to light the “systemic racism on the northern border.” The city of Havre has a population that’s a little less than 10,000 with about 80 percent being white and about 4 percent being Latino. This disparity in no way justifies the behavior of the CBP agent and speaks to the racism at the root of it.

Suda and Hernandez were in line waiting to pay for groceries when CBP Agent Paul O’Neill approached them, commented on how they were speaking, and asked where they were born before asking for identification. They both presented him with valid  Montana driver’s licenses but he still detained them in the parking lot with no justification.

The ACLU states that the lawsuit revealed that local CBP agents have a pattern of engaging in abusive seizures and investigations. In material produced as a result of the lawsuit, CBP agents admitted they routinely profile non-white individuals in the Havre Sector. “We have a lot of agents here and nobody really has much to do,” a CBP supervisor said, ACLU reports.

Evidence presented during the lawsuit revealed that O’Neill was a member of the now-defunct “I’m 10-15” Facebook group where CBP agents shared racist posts about the Latino community. They joked about the deaths of migrants and shared demeaning posts including one of a vulgar illustration of AOC engaged in a sexual act with a detained migrant. O’Neill also handed over several racist text messages confirming his anti-immigrant bias.

“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,” Suda said in the press release. “No one else should ever have to go through this again.”

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