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Border agent detains U.S. citizens for speaking Spanish

The ACLU may take legal action on behalf of two women, both American citizens, who went to a convenience store to buy milk and eggs in a Montana town near the Canadian border and were stopped by a Border Patrol agent who overheard them conversing in Spanish.

The women are Mexican-American, and bilingual, but were born in the U.S. They were detained about 40 minutes while the agent checked their IDs and questioned them. The Supreme Court has ruled that such “investigative stops” are constitutionally permissible if an officer of the law has “reasonable suspicion” to believe a crime or immigration violation has been committed. But police can’t stop and question people randomly or arbitrarily.

The Border Patrol agent told the women he considered them suspicious because they were speaking Spanish “in a state where it’s predominantly English-speaking.” Of course, that’s also true of every other state, so if this justifies police stops, it effectively criminalizes speaking any language other than English anywhere in the United States.

The women likely have grounds to sue the agent and his employer for violating their civil rights. The Border Patrol responded to this incident by asserting its agents “have the authority to question individuals, make arrests, and take and consider evidence,” but failed to explain why speaking Spanish justified the stop and didn’t address the question of whether the agent’s conduct violated the women’s constitutional rights.

Some English-speaking white Americans don’t understand why this kind of profiling is a problem. After all, the women were let go after the agent determined they weren’t illegals. But remember, they’re citizens who did nothing wrong, but nevertheless were detained by a cop for nearly an hour, not because of anything they did, but because of who they are. Now try to imagine what your life would be like if you were continually being stopped and detained by police whenever you shop for groceries or go for a walk in your neighborhood.

White English-speakers don’t understand what this feels like because it doesn’t happen to them.

Read story here.


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