On early Wednesday May 16, two US citizens were arrested by a Border Patrol agent in Havre, Montana, near the border with Canada, after hearing them speaking in Spanish to each other at a convenience store.
The two Hispanic women had been chatting in Spanish while waiting in line to pay for eggs and milk when, to their disbelief, the agent asked for their IDs.
“I looked at him like, ‘Are you serious?’ And he’s like, ‘Yes, I´m very serious'” Ana Suda told the Washington Post newspaper.
Ana Suda, who was born in Texas, began filming the agent with her phone when they left the store and were in the parking lot. She asked him why he had been forced to stop them. He told her that his use of Spanish had caught his attention.
“Ma’am, the reason I asked for your ID is because I came here, and I heard that you are speaking Spanish, something that is not common around here” the agent said in the video captured with the cell phone. The agent later denied that he had used a racial profile to stop them.
“It has nothing to do with that,” the agent said in the video. “It’s the fact that it has to do with you, who speak Spanish in the store, in a predominantly English-speaking state” he explained.
Ana Suda said that even after seeing their identifications, the agent did not allow them to leave the parking lot for about 35 minutes.
A spokesman for the US Customs and Border Protection Office (CBP) told the HuffPost news portal that the agency was reviewing the incident to ensure that “all appropriate policies were followed.”
“Customs and Border Protection agents are committed to treating everyone with professionalism, dignity and respect while applying the laws of the United States” the representative said in a statement.
“Although most of the work of the Border Patrol is carried out in the immediate border area, the agents have extensive police authorities and are not limited to a specific geography within the United States. They have the authority to interrogate people, make arrests and take and consider evidence” he explained.
According to the CBP website, the Border Patrol sector based in Havre is “responsible for 733 kilometers of border area between Montana and Canada, Wyoming, Colorado and Utah, as well as part of Idaho.”
Ana Suda, who plans to take legal action for the incident, said she and Mimi Hernandez were deeply shocked by the event.
Border Patrol agent detained two US Citizens because they were speaking Spanish at a gas station.
“I came and saw that you guys were speaking Spanish which is very unusual up here.”
Sickening. He should be fired! Please spread. pic.twitter.com/3KkpnCpObc
— Together we rise 🙌🏾 (@Matsamon) 21 de mayo de 2018