Two women who were detained in Montana after a Border Patrol agent heard them speaking Spanish at a convenience store have settled a lawsuit against U.S. Customs and Border Protection for an undisclosed amount, says the American Civil Liberties Union. Ana Suda and Martha Hernandez were detained for 40 minutes in 2018 after a border patrol agent overheard them speaking Spanish while they were waiting in line to purchase milk and eggs in Havre, Mt., a city of 10,000 35 miles south of the Canadian border. Border Patrol agent Paul O’Neill was greeted by Hernandez. He commented on her accent and asked the women where they were from. When they replied Texas and California, O’Neill asked for identification. When asked why, O’Neill said, “guys are speaking Spanish which is very unheard-of up here,” the New York Times reports.
Suda and Hernandez grew up speaking Spanish, and were Havre residents. The ACLU said the detention violated the Fourth Amendment and the women’s right to equal protection. After the incident, the women moved from Havre for fear of their families’ safety and because of “local backlash,” said Caitlin Borgmann of the Montana ACLU. Suda said she hoped the encounter prompted U.S. Customs and Border Protection to reassess its conduct. Hispanic residents make up about four percent of Havre’s population, while white residents make up about 80 percent, according to census data. The ACLU said O’Neill was a member of the Facebook Group, “I am 10-15,” which included “obscene images of Hispanic lawmakers and threats to members of Congress.” Borgmann said the incident was not simply an example of “one bad apple” but also of a systemic problem in the CBP branch at Havre. “This is entrenched behavior and it needs to stop,” she said.