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ACLU Sues Border Patrol for Detaining MT Women

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Friday, February 15, 2019   

HAVRE, Mont. – Two women who were detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection after an agent overheard them speaking Spanish are suing the agency.

Martha Hernandez and Ana Suda were questioned last year outside a convenience store in Havre, near the Canadian border. Both women are U.S. citizens, but were held for 40 minutes while the Border Patrol agent questioned them and called for backup.

The ACLU of Montana filed the lawsuit on their behalf in a U.S. District Court on Thursday, claiming the agent violated their constitutional right against unreasonable searches.

Caitlin Borgmann, executive director of the ACLU of Montana says the agent had no justification for stopping them.

"There was no reason to believe that either them had violated the law,” says Borgmann. “It was frightening and humiliating for these two women, who are now left feeling unsafe in their own community. And they know that it's also threatening for anybody else who speaks a different language or is a person of color in Montana."

In video taken by Suda, the agent says he detained them because speaking Spanish is "very unheard of up here." Suda later asks the agent's supervisor if they would've been detained if they were speaking French and he says no.

The Border Patrol says it doesn't comment on pending litigation.

Suda and Hernandez say they and their kids have been harassed since this incident. Borgmann calls the women brave for standing up for themselves, and cites similar situations across the country because of the Trump administration's ramped-up immigration policies.

"We're talking about two U.S. citizens, but everybody with brown skin or who sounds like they have a Spanish accent perhaps, or who is heard speaking Spanish immediately becomes suspect,” says Borgmann. “And so, it reaches far beyond undocumented individuals."

The ACLU is calling on Border Patrol agents to stop detaining people based on their race, accent or the language they speak.


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