Plaintiffs suing Border Patrol say forced out of Havre due to backlash
September 23, 2019
Two women who are suing U.S. Customs and Border Protection for detaining the for nearly half an hour for speaking Spanish while waiting in line at a Havre store say backlash from the lawsuit is driving them from town.
“The result has compounded the effects of plaintiff’s original detention — making them feel even more unwelcome in their own town,” a document filed in federal District Court in Great Falls said.
A brief in the lawsuit Ana Suda and Martha “Mimi” Hernandez filed against CBP said they and their families have had strangers, neighbors and their childrens’ classmates express anger about their filing the suit.
They filed the lawsuit in February alleging their constitutional rights were violated when U.S. Border Patrol Agent Paul O’Neal detained Suda and Hernandez and questioned them after he heard them speaking Spanish while they were waiting in line to buy milk and eggs at a First Street West convenience store.
Both are U.S.-born citizens and were residents of Havre at the time.
Hernandez moved to Havre in 2010 after attending a friend’s wedding in Montana, and Suda moved to Havre in 2014. Both were raising their families in Havre.
After the agent detained Suda and Hernandez in May 2018, which Suda recorded, she posted on her Facebook page that “I recorded him admitting that he just stop(ped) us because we (were) speaking Spanish, no other reason. Remember do NOT speak Spanish sounds like is illegal.”
The lawsuit said O’Neal approached the two while they were waiting in line to make their purchase, detained them and asked for identification. After the two provided Montana driver’s licenses, he took them from the store and continued to question them, the lawsuit said.
It said Border Patrol agents including O’Neal’s supervisor continued to detain them during the interview, which lasted for about 40 minutes, after which they were allowed to leave.
The lawsuit alleges the agent detaining the women violated their constitutional rights because he had no legitimate reason to detain them and it was a violation of equal protection because the agent singled the women out based on race, relying on their use of Spanish as a justification and proxy for race.
The defense has made multiple motions to dismiss the case, to which the plantiffs have filed responses, including the most recent that mentions harassment driving the families out of town,” the brief said.
The two are considering leaving Havre due to the harassment, although both still have strong ties to Havre and would consider returning to live full time, the filing said.
“Havre is currently a painful place for both women, but at this time both continue to have family and work-related connections with the town.
But both are considering moving at this point, the brief said.
Suda is living with relatives in Texas, but her husband still lives here, while Hernandez is spending about half the week in Great Falls and the other half in Havre.
The filing said Suda and Hernandez’ circumstances have changed, but that should have no impact on the motions in the lawsuit.
A hearing on the motions is scheduled for Oct. 2.