Coming back into the US frequent flyers know the drill. We clear immigration, pick up our checked bags and walk them through customs, and drop them back off if we’re connecting. Don’t take photos. You -have very few rights here.
But did you know that most Americans can be stopped and questioned about their reasonable presence when they’re grocery shopping, going to the gym, or walking their dogs?
Two women were shopping in a convenience store when they were detained by a US Customs and Border Protection officer who said they were being held and questioned because he heard them speaking Spanish. The ACLU is suing.
The reason they were detained isn’t speculation. The women asked the officer why they were detained, and the officer says – on video – it’s because they were speaking Spanish.
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 women were held 35 – 40 minutes while the officer verified their identities. (Fortunately for them they were carrying their papers.)
The women had gone to the gym together and then stopped to buy eggs and milk at the Town Pump gas station’s mini-mart. While they were waiting to pay they were speaking Spanish to each other. That’s when the Border Patrol agent asked them where they were born. One woman replied, “Are you serious?” and the officer responded “Dead serious.”
One of the women was born in Texas, the other in California. They were asked to produce their drivers licenses. They complied. The officer took them outside. He instructed them to place their hands on his patrol car. He called for backup and they were forced to wait, but ultimately released after their legal presence was verified.
US Border Patrol agents are permitted to stop and question anyone within 100 miles of a US border based on “reasonable suspicion” the person might be in the U.S. illegally. The town in question is 35 miles from the US border with Canada. About two-thirds of the US population lives within 100 miles of a border.
The ACLU’s lawsuit asks for a limit on detention of individuals based on “race, accent or speaking Spanish, except for when when there are specific and reliable suspect descriptions.”
Currently under U.S. v. Brignoni-Ponce (1975) ‘looking Mexican’ isn’t enough to justify detaining someone, but reasonable suspicion is supported by “the characteristic appearance of persons who live in Mexico, relying on such factors as the mode of dress and haircut” — even in Montana.