Despite the fact that speaking Spanish in the United States – a country that does not have an official language – isn’t illegal or doesn’t indicate someone’s citizenship status, a Border Patrol agent held two women for 35 to 40 minutes because they spoke Spanish near the Canadian border. On Wednesday morning at a convenience store in Havre, Montana, an agent overhead Ana Suda and friend Mimi Hernández – two US citizens – speak Spanish and interrupted their conversation. “We were just talking, and then I was going to pay,” Suda told The Washington Post. “I looked up [and saw the agent], and then after that, he just requested my ID. I looked at him like, ‘Are you serious?’ He’s like, ‘Yeah, very serious.’”
After moving into the store’s parking lot, Suda, who was born in El Paso, used her cellphone to record the incident. He admits to stopping them because they were speaking Spanish, “which is very unheard of up here,” he said. When Suda asked if the agent is racially profiling them, he says he’s not. “It has nothing to do with that,” the unnamed agent said. “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.”
The two women complied and gave him their IDs, but he didn’t allow them to leave the parking lot for 35 to 40 minutes. “I was so embarrassed… being outside in the gas station, and everybody’s looking at you like you’re doing something wrong. I don’t think speaking Spanish is something criminal, you know?” she added. “My friend, she started crying. She didn’t stop crying in the truck. And I told her, we are not doing anything wrong.”
This is something she later had to explain to her 7-year-old daughter, who also speaks English and Spanish fluently. She told her daughter she should be proud that she can speak two languages.
Her next step is contacting the American Civil Liberties Union for help. “I just don’t want this to happen anymore,” she said. “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.”
Check out her video below: