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Border Patrol Detained Me for Speaking Spanish in Montana. Then My Town Turned Against Me.


Border Patrol Detained Me for Speaking Spanish in Montana. Then My Town Turned Against Me.

Ana Suda

I moved to Havre, Montana — near the U.S.-Canada border — in 2014 with my husband and our two young children. Home to around 10,000 people, I’ve always found Havre to be a friendly town, one where I felt good about raising my kids. But that all changed last May when my friend and I were illegally targeted and detained by a Customs and Border Protection agent, just for speaking Spanish to each other in a convenience store.

I didn’t think it was possible for one incident to change our lives, but that’s exactly what happened.



Hitlers operation paperclip succeeded beyond his wildest imaginings.



40 minutes to run a drivers license? Sounds like CBP purposely wanted to hassle them.



I am so sorry this happened to you! As a bilingual teacher I know that maybe the Border Patrol people were just culturally deprived, not speaking two languages! This sounds very very illegal. We have rights to free speech in this country!!! I hope you win the lawsuit and I hope your town grows more to a deeper understanding, as St. Francis said.



I could easily guess that these gutless wonders who were signed on as authorities, as border patrol agents, never had any parents, or that their fathers were bullies like they grew up to be.



Looks like there is a serious systemic problem. Attention also warranted in other cases in Montana:

Numerous others - just search Montana civil rights


Hi Marie,

It seems that students are not harassed for speaking Spanish in your school department. That is definitely not the case for all public schools around the US. I have had to move a few times. So, my kids have gone to public schools in several states. I’ve gone to school department meetings, in several states, to advocate for my kids right to speak Spanish. I’ve found public school departments quite conservative and the one’s I’ve attended, have backed the notion of English Only, as non-discriminatory and in the best interest of ‘Teaching and Learning’. A few school committee members have backed me, and some encouraged involving the ACLU, but I was also warned by conservative members that legal action would result in cost to the school, and thus taxpayers, and could have negative consequences for our relations with some members of our community.

So now, when I go to school, I speak with my kids, and other Latinx teachers in Spanish. My kids and most teachers respond in English. However, a few fellow socialist/communist Latinxs do respond in Spanish: Pa’l carrajo los racistas, facistas, trumpistas.



Thanks for these.

That frustrating reality is that such cases are not limited to Montana.



It still goes on. One would think this outight racism would have ended years ago.

I grew up on a farm in North East Alberta and for whatever reasons my dad used to visit the reserve with regularity and take us kids along. One of my earliest memories was playing on the floor with a First Nations boy and all of the adults sitting around a table singing a traditional Cree song. This little girl all dressed in white would rise up out of this tub as they sang with her acting out the part and everyone would laugh and sing along.

In Grade 1 all of the First nations kids were forced to sit in a single row of desks. This row was moved apart from all of the white kids. I remember grabbing a seat in that row and the teacher admonishing me and telling me that “Indians are dirty and if you sit with them you will get lice”. With all of the other white kids staring at you as some sort of pariah , it easy to see how Racism is so carefully taught.



Havre, MT is a pretty damn small town - and they cannot even stick up for their own neighbors. Fuck Amerikka - especially the racist, thuggish, and fascist, cowboy interior west.



We have to keep racism alive, otherwise the oppressed could come together and realize that they ultimately all have the same oppressor, and contrary to the oppressor’s claims do not actually need the oppressor to be protected from each other.



No. Vile racism is resurgent among the ugly pasty-complected N. European races around the world in the countries they reside or have invaded - Australia South Africa, US, Canada, UK, Germany, Hungary…



I live in a town west of Havre on the Canadian border and have worked construction projects in several other northern border towns since 9/11 when border patrol staffing and facilities in these small towns expanded six to ten fold by 2010. Many of these border towns are way smaller than Havre, so the expanded border patrol facilities are now as big as the rest of the town.

To get stationed on the northern border requires that agents have seniority. Most transfer from the Mexican border to what is in comparatively a retired-in-place gig on the northern border. I asked one agent what they actually do and was told that “during summer we ride horses and ATVs and in the winter we ride snowmobiles”. Had that agent been COMPLETELY honest he would have added " and harass people who speak Spanish during all seasons".

Agent O’Neal has probably already been promoted.



Seems amazing that they would prefer the bitter cold winters of that area to sunny Texas New Mexico or Arizona. They probably like the way Montana is so white - except those “injuns” of course.



This country is rapidly losing its grip on reality, as well as on simple decency.



Sadly, this kind of crap is going on in every state in this United States of Paranoia.



This is our right to free speech. Public schools cannot limit what your kids speak at school or what you or employees speak. This is federal.
Many school districts are quite provincial. I am so sorry for what your kids have experienced for their gifts of speaking Spanish! It is an asset and a great employment value for your kids.




Hi Marie,

Thanks for your comments.

The rule on Spanish speaking is only one example of provincialism that I’ve seen. I believe that the local high school still has its annual “Slave Auction”, in which shackled students are auctioned off as part of a fundraiser. In Florida, last week, police arrested an 11 year old after refusing to stand for the pledge of allegiance to the flag (https://www.orlandoweekly.com/Blogs/archives/2019/02/17/a-central-florida-boy-was-arrested-after-refusing-to-stand-for-the-racist-pledge-of-allegiance).

I can’t find documentation on the schools that enforce English Only even outside of class. I did find reference to the fact that schools have such polices in the following: https://www.panoramas.pitt.edu/health-and-society/spanish-speaking-schools. My sense is that, in a several years to a decade of legal battles, I might win a case that I could bring against one of these schools. But, law is tricky. Those with enough money can pay lawyers to promote very contorted interpretations of law. And, even when there is a common understanding of law, there is a question of the degree to which the law is enforced.




Thanks for sharing your insights, Ray.

While I’ve not visited Montana, I know it’s a gorgeous state with two major national parks, Glacier and Yellowstone. Might I add, a third major park is Little Bighorn/ Custer’s Last Stand. Some day, we shall overcome.

It’s painful to read Ana’s account of her and her friend’s experience of bigotry and harassment by this border agent, and now by this town of small-minded people.

What a contrast with the state slogan of Big Sky Country.