We’ve run numerous stories about police officers accused of wrongdoing during basic traffic stops, lately, though most of the video of these encounters have exonerated the officers. This one is a bit harder to explain. A Border Patrol agent reportedly stopped two U.S. citizens, and detained both of them for questioning, becasue they were speaking Spanish.
The incident happened in Montana. The two were at a gas station Wednesday morning, early, near the border with Canada.
“Ana Suda said she and her friend, Mimi Hernandez, were making a midnight run to the store to pick up some eggs and milk,” The Washington Post reports. “Both are Mexican American and speak fluent Spanish, and they had exchanged some words in Spanish while waiting in line to pay when a uniformed Border Patrol agent interrupted them.”
“We were just talking, and then I was going to pay,” Suda told The Post. “I looked up [and saw the agent], and then after that, he just requested my ID. I looked at him like, ‘Are you serious?’ He’s like, ‘Yeah, very serious.’ ”
Suda, uncomfortable with the way the situation was unfolding, took out her cell phone and began recording video. She also asked for an explanation.
“Ma’am, the reason I asked you 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,” the agent replied.
He insists that the stop has nothing to do with racial profiling.
“It has nothing to do with that. 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 was born in El Paso. Hernandez is originally from California.
The questions persisted, and the agent kept them in the parking lot for 40 minutes.
“I was so embarrassed … being outside in the gas station, and everybody’s looking at you like you’re doing something wrong. I don’t think speaking Spanish is something criminal, you know?” Suda said. “My friend, she started crying. She didn’t stop crying in the truck. And I told her, we are not doing anything wrong.”
After the incident gained some viral attention and was picked up by news outlets, Suda’s 7-year-old daughter asked if this meant they could no longer speak Spanish in public.
“She speaks Spanish, and she speaks English,” Suda 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.”
U.S. Customs and Border Protection is currently reviewing the incident.
“U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents and officers are committed to treating everyone with professionalism, dignity and respect while enforcing the laws of the United States,” the agency wrote in a statement. “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.”
Suda is looking into what, if any, legal recourse she has concerning the incident. “I just don’t want this to happen anymore,” Suda said. “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.”