US Border Officer Detained Two Women for Speaking Spanish – at a Montana Convenience Store

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.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Some “John Rambo” overstepping his powers. He should be fired or at least have his face posted in all the news outlets to show what a fool looks like!

  2. @DNN

    yeah… Probably not…

    Any officer ignorant enough to think that was probable cause isn’t smart enough to be aware of how dumb he looks. He probably thinks he just missed some kidnapping, drug trafficking crime lords.

    Gotta make you wonder the caliber of people and the training they get at the border Patrol.

  3. Well, in most of the countries (including EU) any police officer has a right to ID any person, any time and anywhere.
    If you are illegally in the country you get deported (not released).
    As an immigrant to this country i have nothing against legal immigration.
    But if you guys think that illegal immigration is just fine than we are heading into anarchy.

  4. They get a power trip (majority) the guys in high school that can’t get a girl and eat lunch alone

    They think they have spidey senses that could solve crime? Bull, they like the power and that’s why they applied

    It’s not like a creepy guy with a trench coat in July he asked for verification, couple girls at a store? Com on (waste of my tax payed resources)

    I’m born in Massachusetts so was my father and my grandfather, America is a melting pot, that’s one of the reasons it’s the best but unfortunately in some state(s) I tell my wife not to speak Greek or Italian (only English) because the country bumpkins don’t like it, they’re born, live and die within 30 miles anything unusual they don’t like, pause or stare

    when traveling we wear “NE patriots gear” sometimes, we just get the middle finger lol

  5. Congrats. You live in the most racist country in the world. That I’ve ever seen anyway. I lived there for 10 years until 2016…. Trump was the final straw for me.

    Racism is in the US’s DNA and now on full display. I’d estimate 90% of all Europeans who are accustomed to and love their melting pot countries, now look down on the US as a disgraceful joke. A nation bound by ignorance, perceived superiority, and sadly a big dash of racism.

    What a huge shame that the leading nation should lose its way in such spectacular fashion. A nation of immigrants no less.

    I hope you repair the broken mentality soon, you don’t have much time before society crumbles into hatred and polarized politics to threaten everyday life.

  6. These moronic MAGA types are shameless; fortunately their brief moment of ascendancy is coming to an end.

  7. @Nick

    Been to SA many many times. I’m an ex international airline captain, I’ve most likely been to 1000 times more places than you. Guessing anyway.

    You’re wrong.

  8. Illegal aliens should be deported. Deporting them is not racist. Open borders are a serious threat to US national security.

  9. Andy,

    It’s all over the globe,

    Germany, just now, all white all same shop keepers same people, generation after generation, beside some tourist it was NOT a melting pot, we felt like yes they like tourist money with a smile but leave ASAP your not one of us

    Side note: in Italy I wanted to buy some (Italian made dress shirts) for some family back home, I asked for some in each 16.1/2 a few 16 and another 17 33-35 selves the Taylor/clerk laughed, said this it not USA we don’t have as many different sizes as your accustom to, it’s small to xl, American is so many types our shirt size’s reflect that, big tall, short fat thin or husky we have something that’ll fit, Europe is far less for a shirt non custom cut (American is a MIX) more so than any country

    I’m proud to be from a country with so many types the biggest blend of people in the world, just avoid Some flyover states and your fine

  10. @ Andy. I appreciate that with Trump the optics are horrible in the U.S. which SHOULD be a nation that leads by example in as much as we tout our freedoms and status as a great nation. Yes, racism is rampant here and is on full display these days.

    But to characterize us as being UNIQUELY racist in the world is way off base. We see it in the U.K., especially since Brexit with numerous incidents being reported. France hides behind the shroud of “defending its culture” when in fact they are outrageously racist towards Alegerians, Moroccans and others. Look at the racist laws implemented in Switzerland. Listen to Italians talk about Romanians and African immigrants. The list goes on. Even beloved Denmark, Norway and Sweden have passed laws that have been heavily criticized as racist but for which they deem as “protection.”

    I remember being mugged and robbed at a train station in, of all places, Switzerland. At the police station I filed a report and asked the officers what they can do (review cameras, investigate etc). Their reply, “Nothing….they are filthy gypsies and we don’t consider them Swiss.” Of course, how would he even know this. And why would that matter. In fact the guy was actually dressed in a suit and looked like a business traveller.

    I am not defending any of it. And I agree that the U.S. has to be much better. But I find your comment offensive and without merit to make us out to be a single society that is at fault. It’s a global issue with all of society.

  11. I am guessing that the timing of Gary’s post is related to anti-ICE and anti-Trump sentiment. For sure, morally superior, virtually signally, sanctimonious progressives will express shock and dismay about those rubes that support border security. However, I should point out that if we lived in a free society, then someone should be able to walk the streets of New York City in a red MAGA hat without being attacked by the peace loving natives of New York City. In fact, this post will likely evoke outrage and ad hominem attacks. If it does, QED (ie proves my point).

  12. @andy Yes you have been to more places then, I’ve only been to 70 or so countries but that’s probably more than most. My impressions of SA having been there multiple times is that race issues permeate everything. Lots of deep seated resentments. They also have huge issues with economic migrants burdening an already overstressed infrastructure.

  13. I’m a little conservative and a little liberal like I think most Americans are, you can’t paint a picture of America with some news clips, we have ass holes and some really good people

    But don’t think your crap doesn’t smell like ours does, rasism is everywhere, I raise my kids to judge people on actions not looks except NY yankee fans and Hilton honors loyalists they are the scum of the earth 🙂

  14. No law compels a US citizen to carry identification while in the US. No law allows ANY police the authority to detain a citizen without cause, and as many have pointed out, speaking a foreign language is not probable cause for being a non-citizen. Even within 100 miles of the border.

    I once got a laugh out of an officer at a checkpoint when I pointed out that it was exceptionally unlikely that a non-citizen would be giving him this much grief about the 4th amendment. The reality is that CBP officers are not adequately trained to understand what may or may not constitute “reasonable suspicion” and “probable cause.” Obviously, challenging their authority comes with the risk that your unlawful detention may extend until a supervisor or judge intervenes.

  15. @Gary. Thank you for clarifying that. However, the timing of the broad news coverage is related to biased anti-Trump narrative reporting in the mainstream media. Even the ACLU filing is blatantly political.

    Seriously, I live in New York, which until recently had “Stop and Frisk”. I still get stopped periodically when I am getting on or off the subway for a random search. However, the national media is shocked, shocked, that a border petrol person might have used Spanish as one reason, among many to stop some poor innocent woman (victim shopping, bring out those women and children). I understand why this is not good, but it should not be a national story.

  16. This is an international blog, yet people seem ignorant of other countries. For example:
    –There is a law in Thailand that says everyone has to carry the National ID or equivalent.
    –In Mexico, most of the people running major companies are white. Spanish ancestry. Go look at the faces in the Annual Reports
    –In Malaysia, there are affirmative actions programs against Chinese Malaysians. That is why Chinese Malaysians have immigrated to the USA.
    –They have a religious question on the visa application for India. Religion is a really big deal in India. Ask a recent Hindu Indian if it is “ok” for them to marry a Muslim Pakistani, or visa versa.
    –In Japan, most of the night life is closed to foreigners, unless they have a Japanese with them. In fact, third generation Koreans, who have only lived in Japan and only speak Japanese are still considered to be foreigners.
    –Try being gay, having a drink, or even kissing in Dubia.
    –WTH. Try being a white farmer in South Africa.

    I think most Americans are mixed race and culture. And if they are not, their children are. To paraphrase Churchill, USA is the most racist country in the world, except for all other countries.

  17. I think it’s sad that some think that just because there are dictatorships where people have no rights and the state can do whatever it wants, that justifies vile actions like this. This was supposed to be a free country. No, the government does not have the right to tell you where you can go, what language you can speak, and see your papers on request. And those Americans who want to give up their freedoms in the name of a security state are a big part of the problem.

  18. My question is why does the women speaking in the video have such a poor command of the English language and speak with a heavy accent if she was born in California or Texas (unless she then later grew up somewhere outside the US, which is possible).

    Not saying that the border patrol guy had a good reason to detain them, but I would be suspicious and find it difficult to believe they (or at least the one speaking) was born and grew up in the US. Maybe that’s why he ran a background check on them.

  19. For the record, I do not like “Stop and Search”. I think it is an invasion of privacy. It is pathetic that the left wing media uses selective outrage to push left wing anti-American agendas. And it is pathetic that “useful idiots” get played by this tactic every day, all the time.

  20. Keep the Texan, but all y’all gotta deport that Californian. – no more catch and release after they cross their state border!

  21. The officer was also asked if he would have detained them if they had be speaking French. He answered ‘no’. This right next to the Canadian border where French is an official language. Think about it. Racial profiling anyone?

  22. Please, in NYC we’re constantly seeing television commercials in heavy rotation to visit Israel featuring only the whitest whites despite the country being in the Middle East and a great many people being Sephardim (olive complexion, Mediterranean Jewish) instead of the lily whites that look more “OC Housewives” than even Ashkenazy (Caucasian, northern, western and Eastern European Jewish).

    So, please, racism is hardly exclusive to the USA, even if the Orange buffoon has done an incredible job of bringing the true depth of our country’s racism into the open and has done everything possible to play the divide and conquer card ruthlessly for his, and the GOPs, own gains.

    Indeed, every time that cheesy, appallingly bad AND racist commercial is shown on TV I’m shocked that nobody seems to notice (or care?) that it so grotesquely overlooks the people who live there, and instead focuses of rich, WASPY-appearing tourists galavanting around Tel Aviv and Jerusalem as if they’re visiting Miami Beach or Beverly Hills instead of the Holy Land that’s home to the world’s largest population of Jewish people, a great many of which are of Mediterranean ancestry and whose skin tones are many shades darker than anyone seen in that awful tv commercial!

  23. @Howard Miller. After reading your post on how Trump built the Grand Hyatt in New York, I almost think you liked Trump before he became evil incarnate (worse than the Devil) by becoming President. Everybody in New York was Trump’s friend before he became President, now they all hate him. However, I half agree with you. I used to have an Israeli friend who ran a tour to Israel. She told me that American Jewish women have a hard time telling the difference between Jews and Palestinians and Palestinian men thought it was great sport to bed an American Jewish women, on the pretense that they were Jewish. As a tour guide, she would make a quiet warning.

    Of all the issue we could talk about, Brexit, locus surge in the Red Sea, murder rates in Chicago, worldwide economic slowdown except in the USA, nuclear weapons, and so forth, ….we are naval gazing about a traffic stop of some Hispanic women that refused to speak English to a cop in Montana.

  24. @Other Just Saying said: “Hispanic women that refused to speak English to a cop in Montana.” Actually, that was wrong. They were speaking English. I just looked at the video.

    But it is still naval gazing.
    –I have been stopped by police 3 or 4 times. Swerving in the lane. Except, I was not serving. They can kind of stop you for anything.
    –I was once stopped and questioned because I was waiting for my girlfriend in a parking lot after midnight. Thank you American Airlines for being delayed 4 hours.
    –I was stopped because I was driving out my college parking lot in an old car. Obviously, I might have been a car thief, except I wasn’t.
    –I was stopped in NJ because the cop was looking to give me a ticket to raise revenues for the town. He spent 20 minutes checked everything before concluding that he could not give me a ticket. As I was driving off, he had stopped another victim.
    –I was stopped once because I drove an old Rambler and was young. Obviously a potential drug dealer.

    This should not be a national story, except for Agenda reporting.

  25. For the record Jews are not white people by race. They are one of two distinct ethnic groups completely separate from whites and the two should not be confused.

    As someone who wholeheartedly supports securing the border and building a 1000 foot tall wall 2000 miles long, this event that occurred is a reflection of the ridiculousness of the police state. Instead of securing the border and preventing dangerous illegals from getting into this country in the first the border patrol and other policing agencies target people within our borders who have done nothing that entitles police to even question a person. 35 miles away from the Canadian border is the wrong border to be looking for Illegals. It’s just like after 9/11 when the police state created the patriot act and restriction of rights of Americans instead of limiting student visas for middle eastern men (they have plenty of schools in the Middle East and we already are crowded as it is). Of course most border patrol agents are going to be inept as most police. They are selected by bureaucrats and are worried about their pensions and cushy jobs instead of actually effective policing the actual border.

  26. @Jose You have to be careful criticizing @garyleff for displaying his political bias. Last time I suggested he should stick to travel topics I was attacked and excoriated by the loony leftists accusing me of trying to take away his freedom of speech! As if I could…..

  27. Just wondering if you have given up on being a travel blog and just going for anything to generate clicks?

    You’ve always been anti-DHS, so no surprise you post something about CBP. If you don’t like their action, then work with your congress person to change the law.

    As far as ‘just going for clicks’ this post isn’t being read more than an average post.

  28. How is Customs and Border Protection not related to travel? In any case my blog from the very beginning has always been about whatever has struck my interest. I’m not sure why, if the ACLU suit prevails, the law would need to be changed? The suit contends that the law is currently being violated and they’re asking for it to be enforced correctly, limiting circumstances under which a CBP officer can question someone inside the country.

  29. 1 in 13 people are here illegally in the USA. Try doing this in Mexico or anywhere in South America and as a U.S. Citizen, you will be thrown in jail. My father came here legally in the 1960s and whenever he was challenged crossing our border, or near our border, he was proud to show them that he was here legally as a Permanent Resident of the United States. He never had an issue with it. Just like the women in the video, my father has a strong accent Spanish and you could tell he was not born here in the United States. Everyone is for wide open borders, but everyone here in NW Austin has a lock on their front door to keep the neighbors out of their living room! My Dad has a lock on his door, too.

  30. @bill milley — first you’re overstating the number of people in the U.S. without legal authority by a factor of 2.5. second the number of people in that category has been steadily declining for the past decade. third, stopping US citizens in convenience stores near the canadian border does what exactly?

  31. @Other Just Saying,

    The so-called mainstream media is actually corporate media which is a Trump enabler that help him win the elections to the tone of $1.4+ billion (with a B) of free advertisement of his campaign.

    BTW, I’m for legal immigration but against racial profiling of people. Although Latinos constitute less than 5% of Montana’s population, their story goes back at least two centuries to early fur-trading days. From 1807-1813, the Missouri Fur Co.’s Manuel Lisa established six trading posts in what would become Montana Territory. By 1829, workers from Spain and Mexico were toiling at the Fort Union Trading Post along what is now the North Dakota/Montana border.

  32. This is horrifying – very glad the ACLU is suing. I was unaware that CBP had such powers within 100 miles of a border but it should not be surprising that they feel more empowered to use such authority in the current climate.

    Hilarious and on-point use of the Cheech and Chong song Gary!

  33. @Kalboz. “1807-1813”, do you mean over 200 years ago. Do you nitwits always spout nonsense. For my song. My favorite lefty song: Dumb De Dumb Dumb.

  34. Met one of the nicest persons in Washington State in about 1989. US Citizen born in Texas, as was his father and mother, they were Hispanic and moved to Washington when he was a kid. He and his brother had to not only carry their drivers license, they had to carry their birth certificates, at all times. His was so wore out from folding it and unfolding it to show it to Border Patrol. We moved from WA to CA, they came to visit. They were pulled over in CA, and harassed. They were threatened with a charge of vagrancy. He had a really nice Camero and had his bank card (don’t think they were called debit cards then) in his wallet but not much cash on him. I was so outraged for them. As white American’s we had never been treated this way. At home they spoke Spanish and even in public if he was with other Hispanic people, they spoke Spanish, he though he spoke English perfectly, he did have a spanish accent. It is bullcrap. Sometimes you should put on another persons shoes for a minute. Being harassed constantly because of your skin color and maybe your language or accent is not ok.

  35. Gary, I think Bill Milley is right with his numbers. Please see “Yale, MIT study: 22 million, not 11 million, undocumented immigrants in US.” Remember the numbers you are using was taken from a 2018 report using Jan 2015 data showing a very, very slight decrease in illegal residents. Under the Obama DOJ those numbers were probably massaged to get the desired result. Bill Milley, you said that your Dad came legally – People can still come here legally just as your Dad did and unfortunately the majority choose not to. Give your Dad a thumbs up for me!

  36. @Other, yes, Latinos have over 200 year presence in Montana when your forefathers were in the trees with the monkeys … but don’t let the facts get in your way!

  37. @Kalboz. According to the CIA World Factbook, “Mestizo (Amerindian-Spanish) 62%, predominantly Amerindian 21%, Amerindian 7%, other 10% (mostly European) (2012 est.)”. In other words, there is a lot of white Spanish blood (Mestizo plus other) in Mexico. According to studies, for the most part, even third generation Americans with Mexican ancestors speak only English and are economically, politically, and educationally difficult to distinguish from White Americans. A Mexican family that lived in the USA from 200 years ago, would be indistinguishable from White Americans. So basically it is a nonsense fact that Mexicans were in Montana 200 years ago.

    LOL, maybe that is where Warren got her native blood from, maybe someone in her past married a mostly Spanish Metizo 200 years ago from Montana.

    When leftist states that “facts are difficult things to ignore”, usually it an opinion, an obvious irrelevancy, or just something that has been made up out of whole cloth.

  38. Maybe there’s more to the story what with America’s cognitive dissonance towards illegal aliens, they’re they’re either useful cheap labour or criminals be arrested and deported, or both at once.

    Policemen are usually doing what they’ve been told to do by the sheriff or the mayor, and he in turn by the governor. Enforcing the law on illegal aliens has been out of fashion for any years but perhaps it’s making a brief comeback…

    ..until the lobbyists ensure the large corporations get their way and keep their favourite kind of labour: cheap disempowered workers on low wages.

  39. My last comment.
    (1) Need to build the wall and stop the flow of illegal aliens. Everyone in the world cannot come to United States.
    (2) Do some sort of deal on the illegals already here. Maybe force them to learn about the American system which would make them more knowledgeable than those here. (No new illegal aliens allowed. Absolute hard cut off date. No exceptions.)
    (3) Then redo the legal system, so people can come in illegal. (Not everyone in the world, but some people)

    WTH. You have all these people that come to the USA for school. Spend 4 years in school, graduate with good degrees and strong grades. But the only way for them to stay is to marry someone. It is absurd. But because of both parties have lied about item (1) for about 35 years, we cannot get to item (2)-(3).

  40. After watching the video it sure has hell doesn’t sound like they were born in Texas and California. I thought they were just speaking spanish at first, but they have heavy spanish accents which is odd for a native born american to have. Still I don’t like this whole papers please nonsense by border police when people aren’t even crossing a border, but after hearing the accents I can see why he may have had a reasonable suspicion they were not natives.

  41. @Kerry The current climate as you refer to it has nothing to do with this. This type of stuff has been going on for years and years. It was going on under Obama as well and Bush before him. In border states there are checkpoints they setup on the roads where they check papers of people. Not on the border mind you but inside the state itself on public roads. This is not new at all and didn’t all of a sudden start happening.

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