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Border Agent: I Detained You for Speaking Spanish

Ana Suda and Martha Hernandez sued the Border Patrol
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 27, 2020 3:45 PM CST

(Newser) – Driving while Black is one thing. Looks like talking while Hispanic is another. Two US citizens have settled a lawsuit against US Customs and Border Protection that hinged on a border agent who heard them speaking Spanish, the New York Times reports. The agent detained Ana Suda and Martha Hernandez in May 2018 outside a convenience store in Havre, Montana, near the Canadian border, for about 40 minutes. In a video of the incident shot by the women, Border Patrol agent Paul O'Neill explained why he asked for their valid Texas and California driver's licenses: "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 said.

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The ACLU sued CBP in 2019 and alleged that the agent had violated the women's Fourth Amendment rights. Speaking to USA Today, ACLU staff attorney Cody Wofsy said the incident also shows that some border agents are "completely out of step" with the rise of Spanish-speaking across America. For its part, CBP denied wrongdoing and said it remains "committed to the fair, impartial and respectful treatment" of all people. But in footage obtained by the ACLU, a CBP supervisor said he didn't see "anything harassing" about the encounter and called it typical for a sleepy town where "nobody really has much to do." Hernandez was born in El Centro, Calif., and Suda was born in El Paso, Texas. They settled for an undisclosed amount. (Read more Border Patrol stories.)

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