Two U.S.-born women who were detained by an immigration agent for speaking Spanish in a convenience store in Montana are taking U.S. Customs and Border Protection to court.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Montana and the law firm Crowley Fleck filed the lawsuit on behalf of the women Thursday.
The ACLU said it wants to “permanently block CBP from stopping and detaining people on the basis of race, accent, and/or speaking Spanish.”
ACLU: Singled out based on race
“The agent singled the women out based on race, relying on their use of Spanish as a justification and proxy for race,” the ACLU said. “Indeed, according to the complaint, the agent’s supervisor confirmed that French speakers would not be similarly detained.”
Ana Suda and Martha Hernandez were standing in line in the store in Havre, Montana, when the border agent approached them and asked for their identification after commenting on their Spanish conversation.
The women presented their valid Montana driver’s licenses, but the agent detained them anyway.
When asked why he was detaining them, the agent said it “has to do with you guys speaking Spanish in the store in a state where it’s predominately English speaking.” The ACLU said that was the agent’s only justification for detaining the women.
Harassed in town
Suda said her daughter is now afraid to speak Spanish.
The ACLU said, “Even though the women and their families have lived in Havre for years, they have since been shunned and harassed by other town residents.”
“This changed our lives, I believe, forever,” Suda said.