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Women leave Montana town over Border Patrol lawsuit backlash

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Women leave Montana town over Border Patrol lawsuit backlash

A woman who is suing the US Customs and Border Patrol after an agent interrogated her and a friend for speaking Spanish at a convenience store said Friday that the reaction to her lawsuit forced them to move away from her small Montana city.

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Ana Suda and her family have been harassed by neighbors, strangers and even school children in the city of Havre since a video of a Border Patrol agent interrogating her and Martha "Mimi" Hernandez was uploaded to YouTube, Suda said in an interview. by phone to The Associated Press. A video version has been viewed over 123,000 times since February.

Suda and her two children have lived with relatives in El Paso, Texas, for the past 1 1/2 months, while her husband – a Customs and Border Patrol official – is looking for a job transfer to join them.

"I can't take it anymore," said Suda. "Our lives are not the same, they are not the same anymore. These guys have destroyed everything we have."

Hernandez lives in Great Falls but is still on his way to work in Havre, said his attorney, Alex Rate, of the Montana Civil Liberties Union.

The women, who were born in the US and are citizens, said in their lawsuit that they were talking in Spanish while they were in line to buy eggs and milk at a convenience store in Havre. The agent, Paul O'Neill, walked into the store, listened to them and kept them in the parking lot for about 40 minutes while checking their IDs.

"Madam, the reason I asked for your identification is because I came here and saw that you are speaking Spanish, which is very unheard of here," said O. Neill in the video.

Suda was born in Texas and moved to Montana with her husband in 2014. Hernandez was born in California and has lived in Montana since 2010. Suda did not recognize O'Neill as her husband's colleague, nor did she say that her husband worked for the same agency. .

Havre is a city of almost 10,000 people, about 30 miles from the US-Canada border and close to two Native American reservations. The city's population is mostly white and about 4% Hispanic, according to the US census.

The women filed the lawsuit in February, saying they were detained in violation of Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure and the Fifth Amendment equal protection clause. They are asking a judge to declare that it is unconstitutional for the federal agency to detain anyone based on race, accent or language, to prevent the agency from doing so and to grant them an unspecified amount for damages.

They say these stops are a standard in the Border Patrol Havre sector and cite other recent cases where Latinos and Latinas have been stopped.

"They destroyed my life, but if I can help someone talk, I accept," said Suda.

Border patrol officials and the US Attorney's Office declined comments on Friday, citing the pending lawsuit.

The Border Patrol is trying to judge the lawsuit, and a hearing is scheduled for October 2. Agency attorneys say the Border Patrol has sovereign immunity against any damage claims, and that is because women were only detained once after living there for years. , there is no evidence that there is any threat that this will happen to them again.

Since the lawsuit was filed, Suda said the reaction had come in the form of angry faces on the street, blatant comments about her, high-volume clashes and once a man pushed her. She said friends of Border Patrol agents told her to give up the action, but she did not file a complaint with police because a woman who confronted her said she was a friend of the police.

One time a classmate of his daughter called the girl a curse word in Spanish, Suda said. The potential threat to your children was an important factor in your decision to leave. She has a young, autistic, nonverbal child, and she was afraid something might happen to him and he wouldn't be able to tell her.

Havre Police Chief Gabe Matosich has not returned repeated calls to comment this week. Mayor Tim Solomon was out of office on Friday and did not return a message immediately.

. (tagsToTranslate) General News (t) Law Enforcement (t) Government & Politics (t) Lawsuits (t) Lawsuits (t) Law & Order (t) Havre (t) Montana (t) United States (t) North News of America (t) us (t) national news (t) local news

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