HELENA – The American Civil Liberties Union of Montana is criticizing the U.S. Border Patrol over the case of two U.S. citizens questioned in Havre after an agent heard them speaking Spanish.
Ana Suda, who was born in Texas and has lived in Havre for several years, said she and a friend stopped at a Town Pump to buy milk and eggs. She said they were speaking Spanish when the agent asked to see their documents.
Suda recorded video of her interaction with the agent. In the video, the agent said he asked for the women’s identification because they were speaking Spanish, which he said was unusual in that area.
In a statement, ACLU of Montana executive director Caitlin Borgmann called the incident a “blatant use of racial profiling.”
“Speaking Spanish is not grounds to question or detain anyone,” Borgmann said. “English has never been the only language spoken in Montana, and people have the right to speak Spanish whenever and wherever they choose without being harassed and detained.”
Alex Rate, ACLU of Montana’s legal director, said he believes the case is part of a larger trend of federal agencies using more aggressive tactics in immigration enforcement. He said he hopes U.S. Customs and Border Protection will reevaluate its practices, so that this type of incident does not happen again.
“There’s a misnomer that within a certain distance of the border in the United States, people lose their constitutional rights, and that’s simply not the case,” he said.
Rate pointed to a 2003 case in which Border Patrol agents detained an Iraqi refugee at the Havre train station. He said, after an ACLU lawsuit in that case was resolved, the Border Patrol increased training for its agents in Montana.
“Unfortunately, it appears like we’re back at square one,” he said.
Rate said the ACLU has been in contact with Suda and her friend, and that they are looking at their options in response to the incident.
A spokesperson for U.S. Customs and Border Protection told MTN this incident is being reviewed to make sure all policies were followed. They said Border Patrol agents are not looking at a single factor, but at a number of indicators. They also said their activities comply with the Department of Homeland Security’s non-discrimination policy.