HAVRE — A federal judge in Great Falls heard from U.S. Customs & Border Protection representatives and the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana regarding an incident that happened in Havre in May 2018.
CBP filed a motion to dismiss the case in which Ana Suda and Mimi Hernandez claim they were illegally detained. A video taken by Suda, which eventually went viral, shows a CBP agent questioning the two women for nearly 17 minutes.
In the video, Suda asks the agent why they are being questioned and the agent responds saying he heard them speaking Spanish and it is unusual for that area.
“To Ana and Mimi’s credit, they stood up for their rights when they were unlawfully detained by federal agents,” said Alex Rate, the ACLU Montana legal director. “After Ana and Mimi were detained from U.S. Customs and Border for speaking Spanish, we filed a complaint in federal court asking a couple of things. One is compensation for what occurred to them but also what we are trying to do is get the court to issue an injunction to prevent this type of harm being done to other Latinx individuals within this region."
CBP representative Chad Spraker argued the women were not targeted for speaking Spanish and the agent was not racially profiling them. He also argued they they can not prove that substantial or immediate injury happened after the incident.
“The government filed a motion to dismiss those injunction claims and the primary reason that they argue those claims should be dismissed because it is unlikely that harm will happen to Ana and Mimi in the future. We believe that is simply untrue,” Rate said.
The case to dismiss now sits in Judge Brian Morris’ hands.
“The incident itself is troubling enough because they were engaged in utterly normal conduct that you and I do on a daily basis, shopping at the grocery store or shopping at the convince store, and they were pulled aside in that situation and we believe that’s simply unconstitutional,” Rate said. “I came out of the courtroom feeling positive. Regardless of what happens with our claims for what are called injunctive and declaratory relief, we’re still going to be allowed to proceed on our claims against Agent O’Neil and against the United States government.”
Rate says he hope this case sets the tone for future ones.
“It’s fair to say that Customs and Border Protection has an oversized presence in Havre and small rural towns in Montana within the rural sector. So, the likelihood that someone who is Latinx descent run into federal immigration authorities is pretty high,” Rate said.