A border patrol agent detained two U.S. citizens last week for questioning after overhearing them speaking Spanish at a gas station in Montana, according to a video of the incident posted to social media.
The women, Ana Suda, 37, and her friend Mimi Hernandez, had made a midnight run to a gas station in Havre, Montana, on Tuesday to pick up eggs and milk. The two women, who are both Mexican American, spoke briefly in Spanish as they waited in line to pay, according to Suda. A uniformed border patrol agent then came up to them and asked for their identification.
“Ma’am, the reason I asked you for your ID is because I came in here, and I saw that you guys are speaking Spanish, which is very unheard of up here,” he says in a video recorded by Suda.
Suda asked the agent if she and her friend were being racially profiled. “It has nothing to do with that,” he responds. “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.”
Suda said the two were detained for about 35 to 40 minutes, according to KRTV in Great Falls, Montana. “My friend, she started crying,” Suda told the Washington Post. “She didn’t stop crying in the truck. And I told her, we are not doing anything wrong.”
Suda told the Post that her 7-year-old daughter, who is bilingual, asked afterward if she could no longer speak Spanish in public. “When she saw the video, she was like, ‘Mom, we can’t speak Spanish anymore?’” Suda said. “I said ‘No. You be proud. You are smart. You speak two languages.’”
She told KRTV that she was shocked to be stopped in Montana, where, she said “the people are so nice” and she had never encountered any problems with border officials before.
In a statement to the Post, a spokesperson for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection said the agency was reviewing the incident to determine if the agent followed protocol. “Although most Border Patrol work is conducted in the immediate border area, agents have broad law enforcement authorities and are not limited to a specific geography within the United States,” the agency said in the statement. “They have the authority to question individuals, make arrests, and take and consider evidence.”
Havre, Montana, is not far from the border with Canada, and border control agents have authority within 100 miles of a U.S. border. They cannot stop someone without suspicion of an immigration violation, and they cannot search someone without probable cause.
Suda plans to contact the American Civil Liberties Union to take legal action, according to the Post.