(Havre Herald) Two women who say they were detained by a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agent because they were speaking Spanish in the Havre Town Pump have filed a lawsuit suit in U.S. District Court in Great Falls.
In legal papers, the two, Ana Suda and Martha “Mimi” Hernandez were standing at convenience store’s counter waiting to pay when an agent approached them and asked about Hernandez’ accent.
The agent asked where they were born. Suda said Texas, Hernandez California.
According to a press release from the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana, which filed the suit on their behalf, the agent ordered them to show identification. Both showed Montana drivers’ licenses.
At that point, the women began videoing the agent, asking why he had stopped them.
He said, “It has to do with you guys speaking Spanish in the store in a state where it’s predominantly English speaking.”
According to U.S. Census figures, the vast majority of Hill County residents speak English, though a small minority speak German or Cree as their primary language.
The Havre Border Patrol sector said they had no comment on the lawsuit because they have a policy of not discussing ongoing litigation.
The ACLU said the officer gave no other explanation for detaining the women.
“It’s unconstitutional to detain people just because of their language, accent, or color of their skin,” said Cody Wofsy, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Immigrants Rights Project.
The lawsuit cited violations of:
- Fourth Amendment rights because there was no reason to detain the women.
- The Equal Protection clause because the agent used their language as a proxy for race.
The experience was ”humiliating and traumatising,” the ACLU said.
Suda said her daughter is afraid to speak Spanish in public, and if her mother speaks to her in Spanish she responds in English. Both plaintiffs have lived in Havre for years, the press release said.
The lawsuit, filed in Federal District Court in Great Falls Thursday morning, asked the judge to permanently block U.S. Customs and Border Patrol from detaining people because of their race, accent or because they are speaking Spanish.
This kind of activity is “illegal and must stop,” according to ACLU of Montana executive director Caitlin Borgmann.