Video taken by Ana Suda ‒ who was born in El Paso but raised in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico ‒ begins with Suda approaching a border patrol agent who detained her and a friend for speaking Spanish to each other at gas station in Havre, Montana.
"Sir, can you tell us in the video please why you asked us for our IDs," she politely asks the border patrol officer, who has already apparently begun to run their IDs after detaining them for the heinous crime of speaking Spanish in a "predominantly English State."
Yes, he actually says that.
And yes, he explains, that's his reasoning for detaining her.
"Ma'am, the reason I asked you for your IDs is because . . . I came in here and saw that you guys were . . . speaking Spanish, which is very unheard of up here," the agent says.
"OK," Suda says.
"Just write your name, date of birth, [inaudible]...."
"Just because of our profile, right?"
"No, ma'am, it has nothing to do with that," the border patrol agent explains.
"In fact, it has to do with you guys speaking Spanish in a store," he continues before Suda cuts him off.
"Spanish in a store..."
"In a state..." the border patrol nods and gestures. "In a state where it's predominantly English."
"OK," Suda says politely.
"Can we have your name [inaudible]?"
"Yes, [sic] sir, it is, uh, agent O'Neal."
Agent "O'Neal" proceeds to run Suda's identification along with her friend's when Suda turns the camera for a selfie shot and narrates the video.
"So we just came here to buy milk and eggs and this border patrol, he just asks for our ID because we have an accent," she explains with skepticism in her voice.
"And we speak Spanish."
That video ends, but Suda shared her thoughts KRTV local news outlets after the incident.
"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?” Suda in an interview with KVIA.
"My friend, she started crying. She didn’t stop crying in the truck. And I told her, we are not doing anything wrong."
"I have a daughter, she's 7 years old and she speaks Spanish and English perfectly with no accent. I want my daughter to be able to speak Spanish if she wants to without feeling bad," Suda explained.
"He thinks it is very bad what this guy was doing because he does not have the right to do it."
The U.S. Customs & Border Protection issued a statement in response to the video, which is making rounds on social media.
"Although most Border Patrol work is conducted in the immediate border area, agents have broad law enforcement authorities and are not limited to a specific geography within the United States," the statement reads.
"They have the authority to question individuals, make arrests, and take and consider evidence."
The website for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection states the following information:
U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Office of Border Patrol is responsible for securing the U.S. border between the ports of entry. To do this, they use a layered approach that includes patrolling the border itself, (including the use of electronic surveillance devices), patrolling nearby areas and neighborhoods where illegal immigrants can quickly fade into the general population, and conducting checkpoints - both stationary and temporary.
The authority for this is based on the Immigration and Nationality Act 287(a)(3) and copied in 8 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 287 (a)(3), which states that Immigration Officers, without a warrant, may "within a reasonable distance from any external boundary of the United States...board and search for aliens in any vessel within the territorial waters of the United States and any railcar, aircraft, conveyance, or vehicle. 8 CFR 287 (a)(1) defines reasonable distance as 100 air miles from the border.
Two key court decisions affirm the authority of the Border patrol to operate checkpoints and to question occupants of vehicles about their citizenship, request document proof of immigration status, and make quick observations of what is in plain view in the interior of the vehicle.
Border Patrol checkpoint case law has provided the basis for numerous other checkpoints beneficial to the public, such as DUI checkpoints, driver's license/proof of registration checkpoints, etc.
Border Patrol checkpoints do not give Border Patrol Agents carte blanche to automatically search persons and their vehicles, other then in the manner described above. In order to conduct a legal search under the Fourth Amendment, the agents must develop particularly probable cause to conduct a lawful search. Probable cause can be developed from agent observations, records checks, non-intrusive canine sniffs and other established means. Motorist's may consent to a search, but are not required to do so.