HELENA, Mont. Two women detained by U.S. customs and border agents in northern Montana because they spoke Spanish while shopping in a convenience store reached an undisclosed monetary deal in their lawsuit against the agency, the ACLU in Montana said Tuesday.
Ana Suda and Martha “Mimi” Hernandez, both U.S. citizens, allegedly violated their constitutional rights when they were detained in a parking lot in front of a store in Havre City for 40 minutes after an agent asked for their identities.
In resolving the case, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection stated that it did not acknowledge responsibility, adding in a statement that “the vast majority of CBP employees and officers perform their duties with dignity and distinction, working tirelessly every day to ensure safety. keep our country “.
The case came to light after Suda made a video during the May 2018 interaction in which he asked Agent Paul O’Neill why he was asking them.
“Ma’am, I asked you for your ID because I came in here and saw you speak Spanish, which is very unheard of up here,” O’Neill said in the video. Suda and Hernandez had a valid Montana driver’s license.
With words and deeds, O’Neill and a supervisor who arrived later made it clear that women could not leave the convenience store parking lot free, wrote Alex Rate, an ACLU lawyer, in the lawsuit.
“We sided with the government because Spanish language skills do not justify racial profile and harassment,” Suda said in an ACLU statement. “I am proud to be bilingual and I hope that as a result of this case, CBP will thoroughly review its policies and practices. No one else will ever have to go through this again. “
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection said in a statement that its employees are “trained to enforce U.S. law uniformly and fairly and do not discriminate on the basis of religion, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation”.
He added that the settlement is in no way an acknowledgment of the responsibility or fault of the United States, its agents, employees or employees, nor can it be construed as expressly denying that they are liable to the plaintiffs. “
The agency did not respond to questions asked in the email as to whether O’Neill is still working for the agency or has faced the matter. The agency and women’s lawyers did not disclose how much money they paid in the town.
In gathering the information needed for the lawsuit, the ACLU said customs and border protection agents in northern Montana acknowledged that they routinely profile non-white people.
“It’s a small place, and we have a lot of agents here, and no one actually has much to do,” an unnamed border guard told ACLU lawyers on a video footage.
He said he saw two people who appeared to be of Mexican descent in the mall while he was out of service, began to reach for his phone to call what he saw, but then spotted another border guard behind them who was already talking on his phone.
“If there’s someone down there who speaks Spanish, it’s like suddenly five agents rush at you, ‘What’s going on?’ said the supervisor.
Suda and Hernandez faced repercussions in Havre for filing their complaint, the ACLU said.
“They both eventually left Havre, fearing for the safety of their families,” said Caitlin Borgmann, executive director of the ACLU in Montana.
Suda was born in Texas and moved to Montana in 2014 with her husband. Hernandez was born in California and moved to Montana in 2010. They are both certified nursing assistants and worked in an assisted living center.
Havre is a city of nearly 10,000 inhabitants in northwestern Montana, about 48 miles from the U.S.-Canada border and near two Native American reserves.
According to the U.S. Census, the city’s population is mostly white, with about 15% Native American and about 4% Hispanic.