UPDATE: The ACLU is weighing in on last week's incident where a border agent detained two women at a gas station in Havre for more than 30 minutes because he heard them speaking Spanish.
Caitlin Borgmann, Executive Director for the ACLU of Montana issued the following statement:
“Speaking Spanish is not grounds to question or detain anyone. English has never been the only language spoken in Montana, and people have the right to speak Spanish whenever and wherever they choose without being harassed and detained."
“Border Patrol leadership must immediately and clearly condemn demanding papers from anyone for speaking Spanish. The Constitution and the Department of Homeland Security's own nondiscrimination policy prohibit racial profiling like this. Customs and Border Protection, the largest law enforcement agency in the country, must fix the defects in its practices that led an agent to act so egregiously.
“Racial profiling is illegal. People of color in Montana have been harassed and victimized by racial profiling throughout the state’s history.
“This blatant use of racial profiling by Border Patrol exemplifies the Trump administration’s draconian immigration policies that violate the rights protecting us all. The Constitution prohibits all law enforcement agencies, including Border Patrol, from racial profiling and arbitrary searches and detentions.
“We are grateful that Ana Suda has chosen to speak out against this atrocious and illegal behavior, and that she recorded the incident. We also recognize that many profiling victims cannot do so, as they fear for their family, jobs, physical safety, and status in this country. The ACLU of Montana is working with Ms. Suda to explore her options in response to this incident, and we emphasize how important it is for individuals to know their rights in the border zone.
The ACLU of Montana will continue to keep a close watch on the Border Patrol’s actions and remains dedicated to ensuring that constitutional rights are not trampled because of a person’s race, color, ethnicity, language, or other protected characteristics.”
Ana Suda and her friend were at the gas station buying eggs and milk at the Town Pump gas station in Havre. The two were speaking Spanish when a border patrol agent stopped them in the parking lot and asked for their identification.
The unidentified agent stated: "The reason I asked you for your ID is because I came in here, and I saw that you guys are speaking Spanish, which is very unheard of up here."
Ms. Suda recorded the entire incident on her phone. Her video went viral and in an interview with CNN, she said, "I feel very sad. I believe they need to have a reason to stop you, not because you speak Spanish."
She's right, speaking Spanish is not breaking the law.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection website says that immigration officers don't need a warrant to search for "aliens" within a reasonable distance of the border. The Havre Town Pump incident was about 115 miles from the border.
In order to conduct a legal search under the Fourth Amendment, agents must have probable cause. That probable cause can come from an agents observation, record checks, and other established means.
In this case, the border agent said speaking Spanish was unheard of in this rural area and claimed that was his probable cause.
We did reach out the border patrol in Havre and they declined for comment.