Border Patrol agent under fire for questioning two US citizens in Montana for speaking in Spanish
A video of a Border Patrol agent questioning two US citizens about their immigration status outside a convenience store in Montana has drawn widespread flak and gone viral.
Ana Suda and Mimi Hernandez were questioned as they were overheard speaking in Spanish by the agent as they were standing at the cashier at the convenience store in a gas station in Havre, just 30 miles from the Canadian border.
According to reports, Suda and Mimi Hernandez had gone to the store to buy eggs and milk for their children's breakfast on the morning of May 16.
The two women were talking as they were checking out and just happened to be speaking in Spanish. The agent overheard them talking and then stopped them and asked for their ID.
Suda told KVIA: "He asked where I was born, so I looked at him and I said, 'Are you serious?' He's, like, 'Yes, I'm serious,' but, you know, with a very authoritative voice".
According to Suda, the agent identified himself to the women as agent O'Neal. She asked him if she could at least pay for the items she was waiting at the line to check out. She said: "He's, like, 'No, give me your I.D'."
The mother then said that she would definitely oblige and give him her ID but that she wanted to take out her phone and record the conversation. The video shows her getting out her phone and recording the incident.
The agent can be heard saying in the video: "M'am, the reason I asked you for your I.D. is because I came and saw that you guys were speaking Spanish which is very unheard of up here. It’s the fact that it has to do with you guys speaking Spanish in the store ― in a state where it’s predominantly English-speaking."
Suda also told reporters that she was stunned that the agent had started questioning her just because she was speaking in Spanish.
Both the women are US citizens with Suda being born in El Paso, Texas, but was raised in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Hernandez is from Central California and she was quite unnerved by the whole incident.
Suda said: "She asked 'why is this happening to us? What did we do wrong? Because we said something in Spanish?' and it's embarrassing, people look at you like you did something wrong."
Even though the women complied and gave the agent their IDs, he still kept them at his side for about 35 minutes. The Border Patrol issued a statement after the video went viral saying:
"Although most Border Patrol work is conducted in the immediate border area, agents have broad law enforcement authorities and are not limited to a specific geography within the United States. They have the authority to question individuals, make arrests, and take and consider evidence."
The agency has also said that they will look into the incident.
Suda said in an interview with the Washington Post that her husband is a former probation officer with the Montana Department of Corrections. She also said that she will be calling the ACLU for legal help in filing a lawsuit regarding the incident.
She said: "I just don’t want this to happen anymore. I want people to know they have the right to speak whatever language they want. I think that’s the most important part, to help somebody else."
She also said that she was not upset by what happened with her but that her 7-year-old daughter had a traumatic time watching the video and reacting to it.
She said: "When she saw the video, she was like, 'Mom, we can’t speak Spanish anymore?'. I said 'No. You be proud. You are smart. You speak two languages.' This is more for her."