Americans Detained in Montana for Speaking Spanish Are Suing US Customs and Border Patrol

Americans Martha Hernandez and Ana Suda were detained by CBP last May in Havre, Montana. The agent who stopped them gave a curious reason for their detainment: they were speaking Spanish.

The two nurses aides, however, are not taking their treatment laying down. Along with the ACLU, Hernandez and Suda are filing a lawsuit against US Customs and Border Patrol.

The ladies were stopped by Agent Paul O’Neal while buying groceries at a local convenience store. When they asked why they were being questioned, “O’Neal told them, “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, OK.”


Hernandez and Suda were questioned for around 40 minutes before they were released by O’Neal’s supervisor. Since Havre is only 20 miles from Canada, Suda asked if they would be detained for speaking French. The supervisor replied, “No, we don’t do that.”

In addition to seeking compensation, the lawsuit also asks that the CBP be ordered:

“Not to stop or detain anyone ‘on the basis of race, accent and/or speaking Spanish,’ unless those characteristics are tied to a specific and reliable suspect description. They also want the court to declare that someone’s race or language isn’t enough on its own to create suspicion to justify a seizure or detention.”

The women also note that people speaking Spanish in Havre isn’t unusual at all. The suit states, “despite having a population of fewer than 10,000 people, the town is home to a strong and vibrant Latinx community.”

See a video of the encounter here:


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