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They Were Stopped for Speaking Spanish. Now They're Suing

Complaint: 'no legitimate reason' for CBP to detain Ana Suda, Martha Hernandez, both US citizens
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 15, 2019 9:42 AM CST
In this Jan. 23, 2019, photo, Martha Hernandez, left, and Ana Suda pose in front of a convenience store in Havre, Mont., where they say they were detained by a US Border Patrol agent for speaking Spanish...   (Brooke Swaney/ACLU of Montana via AP)

(Newser) – Two native-born US women were detained by a Border Patrol agent last May at a convenience store in Havre, Montana. Now those women are suing US Customs and Border Protection, noting in their complaint that the CPB agent "singled out, detained, and interrogated" Ana Suda and Martha "Mimi" Hernandez "because he heard them speaking Spanish," NBC News reports. The ACLU suit says agent Paul O'Neal focused on the moms "based on race, relying on their use of Spanish as a justification and proxy for race." In a video of the incident Suda recorded on her phone, O'Neal is heard saying, "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." The suit claims O'Neal violated the women's Fourth Amendment rights, as well as their rights to equal protection.

The complaint also notes "America is a multi-lingual, multi-racial, and multi-ethnic country" with "no official language," and that "Spanish is far and away the most common language in the [US] after English." Suda says her young daughter is now afraid to speak Spanish, adding, "This changed our lives ... forever," per NBC. Still, per the Washington Post, when a friend told Hernandez the agent had targeted the wrong person, Hernandez said, "No, they picked the right person—the person who is going to stand up for the next one." The complaint seeks compensatory damages for the "humiliating and discriminatory treatment" and wants CPB to cease and desist from stopping people speaking Spanish or with an accent, as well as "on the basis of race," unless there's a more detailed suspect description available. Vox gets deeper into the legalities of such a CBP detention. (Read more lawsuit stories.)

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