Two U.S. citizens were stopped and questioned by a Border Patrol agent last week for speaking Spanish at a gas station in Havre, and the story and video have now gone viral, with articles on CBS News, The Washington Post, Daily Mail, New York Daily News, Telemundo, and more.
The incident happened in the early hours of Wednesday, after Ana Suda and Mimi Hernandez stepped out to get some eggs and milk for their children at a gas station convenience store in Havre, about 30 miles south of the Canadian border. She said she was born in El Paso, Texas, and raised across the border in Mexico, but has spent the last 14 years in the USA with her husband and 7-year-old daughter.
Hernandez was born in central California, she said. "I looked at him like, 'Are you serious?' He's like, 'Yeah, very serious, '" she told the Washington Post.
"I picked up my phone and started recording him because I wasn't doing anything wrong", she said, adding, "That is the only way you can defend yourself".
Suda, who said she plans on taking legal action, recorded video of the exchange in the parking lot.
In a display of outright xenophobia and contempt for elementary democratic rights, the Border Patrol agent replied: "Ma'am, the reason I asked 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". -Canada border. One of the women, Ana Suda, asked the agent why he asked for their identifications.
Suda said the officer detained them for about 35 minutes.
"I was so embarrassed ... being outside in the gas station, and everybody's looking at you like you're doing something wrong". He's, like, "Yes, I'm serious", but, you know, with a very authoritative voice, ' Suda told KVIA. She didn't stop crying in the truck. "I want my daughter to be able to speak Spanish if she wants to without feeling bad", Suda told ABC-7.
U.S. Border and Customs Patrol officials are reviewing the incident, they told the Post; however, the agency must address how racial bias or discrimination plays a role in incidents where people of color are detained who do not pose a threat. Among those who've weighed in: former HUD Secretary Julian Castro, who tweeted, "Way to go, Border Patrol agent". I cannot believe this happened, ' Suda told MTN news.
The women were speaking Spanish while in line at the register when a uniformed Border Patrol agent reportedly interrupted and asked to see IDs. "I say, 'Montana is flawless, ' because I love the people here". Within that area, agents have been given broad powers to detain, question, and arrest individuals if they have reasonable suspicion that a crime or immigration offense has been committed.
Border Patrol agents are authorized by law to make warrantless stops within a "reasonable distance" from the border - defined as 100 miles (160 kilometers) under federal regulations. In the video, the agent says he specifically stopped the two because he overheard their conversation in Spanish. "It's different after something like this because you start thinking and thinking". "I think that's the most important part, to help somebody else".
"Here they know you", she said. You need to be proud to speak Spanish, '"she said".
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