Two women were detained at a Montana gas station by a U.S. Border Patrol agent for speaking Spanish. According to NBC News, two Montana women, Mimi Hernandez and Ana Suda, were buying milk and eggs at a gas station in Havre, a small town located 35 miles south of the Canadian border, when a border patrol agent overhead them speaking Spanish.
“He asked us where we were born, so I looked at him and I said, ‘Are you serious?'” Suda said. The agent asked the women for their IDs and went outside to the parking lot.
Suda said she began to record the interaction on her cell phone because she felt uncomfortable. When Suda asked the agent on video why he was asking for their IDs, the agent, who identified himself as Agent O’Neill, said Spanish was unheard of in Montana.
Spanish is the second most common language spoken in the state.
When Suda asked if she and Hernandez were being racially profiled, Agent O’Neill said no.
“It has nothing to do with that,” O’Neill said. “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.”
O’Neill detained Suda and Hernandez in the parking lot for 35 to 40 minutes before giving them back their IDs. Suda says she believes she and Hernandez were racially profiled because they’re Mexican-American.
Suda was born in El Paso, Texas and Hernandez was born in central California. Both speak fluent Spanish.
“I don’t have another option to think something else because we were just speaking Spanish,” Suda said. “I was buying eggs. I don’t think that’s suspicious.”
The footage of the event has caught the attention of civil liberties groups. A spokesperson of U.S. Customs and Border Protection said the incident was being reviewed to determine if Border Patrol policies were appropriately followed.
Although agents have a broader authority when working within 100 miles of a U.S. border, CBP policy says agents aren’t allowed to detain or stop a person based on their ethnicity or race.
“[Agents] are committed to treating everyone with professionalism, dignity and respect while enforcing the laws of the United States,” the spokesperson said.
Up to 10,797,088 arrests were made by law enforcement officers nationwide in 2015 alone. Suda said the encounter was embarrassing because of Havre’s small population of 10,000 people.
“Here they know you,” Suda said. “When you somebody stopped by police, what do you think?”
Suda has reached out to the American Civil Liberties Union to take action. The tipping point, she said, was when her daughter asked if it meant they couldn’t speak Spanish anymore.
“I want her to know she can speak Spanish in whatever place she wants and nothing happens,” Suda said. “And no one is going to stop her just because she speaks Spanish.”