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Settlement reached in case involving US Border Patrol questioning of 2 women in Havre

Posted at 12:33 PM, Nov 24, 2020

The two Americans who were detained by a U.S. Customs & Border Protection officer for speaking Spanish while shopping at a convenience store in Havre -- Ana Suda and Martha Hernandez -- have reached a settlement in their lawsuit.

The ACLU of Montana said in a news release on Tuesday that Suda and Hernandez were waiting to pay for groceries when CBP agent Paul O’Neill approached them, commented on Hernandez’s accent, and asked where they were born. They told him Texas and California, respectively. The agent then ordered them to show identification, and they immediately presented their valid Montana driver’s licenses.

O’Neill detained them in the parking lot, and they began recording video of him and asked 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.” O’Neill offered no other justification for detaining and interrogating them.

The ACLU of Montana said that through the lawsuit, evidence uncovered revealed that O’Neill was a member of the now defunct “I’m 10-15” Facebook group where 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 U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez engaged in oral sex with a detained migrant.

According to the ACLU, O’Neill also handed over a number of inflammatory and racist text messages that they said confirmed his anti-immigrant bias.

“As if the racism they experienced at the hands of CBP agents were not enough, our clients also bore the brunt of local backlash as a result of coming forward. They both ultimately left Havre for fear of their families’ safety,” said Caitlin Borgmann, executive director of the ACLU of Montana.

“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,” said Suda. “No one else should ever have to go through this again.”

The settlement involves a monetary sum; the amount has not been disclosed.