Controversial video shows a Border Patrol agent quizzing two U.S. citizens about their immigration status outside a convenience store in Montana, simply because he overheard them speaking Spanish as they were checking out.
The incident happened in the early hours of Wednesday, after Ana Suda and Mimi Hernandez stepped out to get some eggs and milk for their children at a gas station convenience store in Havre, about 30 miles south of the Canadian border.
As they were checking out, the two women were speaking Spanish when they were overheard by a Border Patrol agent, who stopped them and asked for their ID.
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A Border Patrol officer is under fire for stopping two U.S. citizens and questioning them on their immigration status for speaking Spanish at a convenience store
'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,' Suda told KVIA.
Suda said she asked the man, who identified himself as Agent O'Neal, if she could pay for her items first.
'He's, like, "No, give me your I.D,"' she recalled. So she said she would give him her ID, but she wanted to get her phone out of her car so she could record their interaction.
The video starts after she has retrieved her phone.
'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,' the agent says in the video.
'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.'
Ana Suda, right, and her friend Mimi Hernandez, who both live in Montana were shocked by the interrogation
Suda said she was shocked that he could stop her just for speaking Spanish.
Both Suda and her friend are U.S. citizens. Suda was born in El Paso, Texas but raised in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Hernandez is from Central California originally, and was a bit more shaken by the encounter. Both now live in Montana.
'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,' Suda said.
Even after providing their IDs, Suda said the agent held them for about 35 minutes.
After the video went viral last week, the Border Patrol issued this 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.'
They said they will be reviewing the incident.
In an interview with the Washington Post, Suda, whose husband is a former probation officer with the Montana Department of Corrections, said she will be reaching out to the ACLU for legal help filing a lawsuit over the incident.
'I just don’t want this to happen anymore,' Suda told the Post. '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.'
Ana Suda, pictured, one of the two women who were stopped said she will be contacting the ACLE to file a lawsuit over the incident
She added that she was most upset by her seven-year-old daughter's reaction to the video and said she had never encountered anything similar in the state before.
'When she saw the video, she was like, ‘Mom, we can’t speak Spanish anymore?’” Suda told the Post. 'I said "No. You be proud. You are smart. You speak two languages." This is more for her.'
'My family was asking me, because my family is still in Texas, and they were asking me, how is Montana about this? I said I have never had a problem before. I say Montana is perfect. I love the people here, the people are so nice. It is nicer than other states. I can not believe this happened,' Suda told MTN news.