US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has agreed to pay a “monetary sum” to two native-born US citizens and Montana residents who were made to show ID and detained for about 40 minutes (including continuing detention even after they showed their Montana drivers licenses) solely because a CBP agent overhead them speaking Spanish to each other.
The amount of the settlement has not been made public.
The ACLU of Montana represented the two Latinx residents of Havre, MT, in their lawsuit, which initially sought a declaratory judgment “that race, accent, and language cannot create suspicion to justify seizure and/or detention” (which ought to go without saying) in addition to money damages.
The facts alleged in the complaint are supported by cellphone video of a CBP agent’s admission that the detention and ID demand were based solely on the language spoken by the agents’ Latinx victims. On discovery, CBP turned over additional self-incriminating video of statements made by CBP agents in interviews with internal CBP investigators, as well as grossly racist text messages exchanged by the CBP agents. Havre is a border town with two crossing points to Canada, where French is a national language, but the Havre-based CBP agents freely admitted that they wouldn’t treat speaking French as suspicious.
After the lawsuit got local and national publicity, the two plaintiffs and their families were harassed and driven out of town. “At his high school, a teacher asked Mimi’s son whether he had brought his ID to class,” one of the victims says. “Our clients bore the brunt of local backlash as a result of coming forward. They both ultimately left Havre for fear of their families’ safety,” according to the executive director of the ACLU of Montana.