Latinas Win Settlement Against Trump Administration After Being Detained for Speaking Spanish


Image via Brooke Swaney of the ACLU Montana

By Araceli Cruz

November 24, 2020

Two Latinas in Montana sued the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) for illegal detention after an agent heard them speak Spanish. 

On May 16, 2018, Ana Suda and Martha “Mimi” Hernández were in line waiting to pay for groceries at a local convenience store in Havre, Montana. The two Latinas were casually speaking to each other in Spanish when US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agent Paul O’Neill approached them. 

O’Neill asked Hernández about her accent and then proceeded to ask where they were born. They said Texas and California, respectively. The agent then ordered them to show identification, and they immediately presented their valid Montana driver’s licenses. Despite having no justification for interrogating them, the CBP agent still detained them

RELATED: ‘They Didn’t Care’ About COVID-19, Cuban Immigrant Says in Lawsuit Against Nebraska Meat Plant

The Latinas asked him why they were being detained. He said it was because they were “speaking Spanish in the store in a state where it’s predominantly English speaking.”

The Entire Ordeal Was Caught on Camera 

On behalf of the Latinas, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Montana and the law firm Crowley Fleck PLLP, sued the CBP. On Nov. 24, they settled their lawsuit against the Trump administration. The settlement amount has not been disclosed. 

“We stood up to the government because speaking Spanish is not a reason to be racially profiled and harassed. I am proud to be bilingual, and I hope that as a result of this case, CBP takes a hard look at its policies and practices,” Suda said in a statement. “No one else should ever have to go through this again.”

The ACLU discovered that local CBP agents had engaged in a longstanding pattern of abusive seizures and investigations. Agents in the area repeatedly targeted Latinos without justification, often based on their race. 

The ACLU uncovered evidence that showed O’Neill was a member of the now-defunct Facebook group called “I’m 10-15.” In that group, CBP agents joked about the deaths of migrants, discussed throwing burritos at Latino members of Congress visiting a detention facility in Texas, and posted a vulgar illustration depicting Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) engaged in oral sex with a detained migrant.

RELATED: Judge Rules Trump Administration Cannot Deport Migrant Children Without Trial

The ACLU reports that a CBP supervisor stated: “We have a lot of agents here, and nobody really has much to do.” An agent recounted seeing “two Mexicans” while off duty in a local mall. He was about to report the two shoppers to CBP so that the agency could send an agent—only to find that another off-duty CBP agent had already made the same report.

“For these agents, people are suspicious if they do not fit their profile of a typical resident of Havre — i.e. if they are not white,” the ACLU said. 

The ACLU Released a List of Demands for the Biden Administration

Within the first six months of the new administration, the ACLU wants to see President-elect Biden:

  • Ensure that all CBP officials uniformly comply with full Fourth Amendment standards.
  • Eliminate all border patrol permanent interior checkpoints.
  • Reduce the number of border patrol agents by 50%.
  • Direct Department of Justice to revise its “Guidance Regarding the Use of Race by Federal Law Enforcement Agencies” by prohibiting any discriminatory profiling without exception.


CATEGORIES: Law and Policy | News


Local News

Related Stories