The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit Thursday against Customs and Border Protection after two women claimed they were detained by a border agent in Montana for speaking Spanish, The New York Times reports. The border agent, named in the lawsuit as Paul A. O’Neal, allegedly stopped Ana Suda and Martha Hernandez inside a Havre convenience store in May 2018 after hearing them speak Spanish. O’Neal allegedly said Hernandez’s accent was “very strong,” and asked the two women where they were born. He then reportedly asked to see their identification, and detained them in the parking lot for about 40 minutes after they showed him valid driver’s licenses.
According to the newspaper, the women began to film the incident. “Ma’am the reason I asked you for your ID is I came in here and I saw you guys are speaking Spanish, which is very unheard of up here,” O’Neal reportedly can be heard saying on the video. When the two asked if they were being racially profiled, O’Neal allegedly said the incident had “nothing to do with that.” “It’s the fact that it has to do with you guys speaking Spanish in the store in a state where it is predominantly English speaking, O.K.?” he reportedly said. The lawsuit alleges the agents violated Suda and Hernandez’s Fourth Amendment and equal-protection rights. CPB reportedly declined to comment on the matter, but said their lack of comment should “not be construed as agreement or stipulation with any of the allegations.”