Published: Tue, May 22, 2018
Markets | By Otis Pena

Border Patrol agent questions United States citizens for speaking Spanish in Montana

Border Patrol agent questions United States citizens for speaking Spanish in Montana

Two U.S. citizens in a small Montana town said they were questioned and detained by a Border Patrol agent for up to 40 minutes because they were heard speaking Spanish.

According to the CBP website, the Havre Border Patrol Sector, headquartered in Havre, is "responsible for 456 miles of border area between Montana and Canada, Wyoming, Colorado and Utah, as well as, part of Idaho". Suda says they were stopped by the uniformed agent while they were waiting in line to pay for their items.

"We were just talking, and then I was going to pay", said Suda. But despite the agent's insistence to the contrary, many are reporting that Border Patrol often racially profiles people, meaning they stop anyone who looks Latino and then provide some other justification for it.

Suda said she felt uncomfortable and began recording the encounter with her cellphone after they had moved into the parking lot. "When she saw the video, she was like, 'Mom, we can't speak Spanish anymore?' I said, 'No".

"Sir, can you tell us in the video why you asked us for our IDs, please?"

Suda and Hernandez said they were making a late-night run to pick up eggs and milk at the store. Suda was born in El Paso, Texas, and was raised in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico; Hernandez was born in central California. Suda told the news outlet.

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U.S. Customs and Border Protection released a statement announcing that it will be reviewing the situation "to ensure that all appropriate policies were followed".

"They have the authority to question individuals, make arrests, and take and consider evidence", the representative told the Post. Agents have broader authority when operating within 100 miles of a US border, such as operating checkpoints and questioning people in their vehicles about their citizenship, but CBP policy also says agents can not stop or detain someone exclusively on their race or ethnicity.

Last week's confrontation happened within a day of the posting of another video showing a NY attorney ranting against Spanish speaking restaurant workers and threatening to call Immigration and Customs Enforcement to have them "kicked out of my country". I don't know how a Border Patrol agent could do his job while ignoring those clues. "You need to have reasonable suspicion [of an offense before detaining someone] and speaking Spanish isn't one of them". In the post-9/11 era, we've added some significant hurdles to obtaining proper licensing and perhaps the women's licenses were from states whose licenses aren't Real ID compliant or who issue licenses to non-citizens. There's a so-called "100-mile zone" away from the border where they still have jurisdiction, and because coastlines are considered borders, about half the American population lives inside that zone. Nor, quite obviously, should speaking another language with a friend be something that authorizes official harassment.

Suda told KRTV that even her husband, a former probation officer with the Montana Department of Correction who is in law enforcement, is questioning what happened: "He thinks it is very bad what this guy was doing because he does not have the right to do it".

"It's a nice town. I don't think it's a confrontational [population] here", Suda said. "I want people to know they have the right to speak whatever language they want".

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