Suda and Hernandez v. U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Suda v. U.S. Customs and Border Protection, No. 4:19-cv-00010-BMM, (D. Mont., filed Feb. 14, 2019)

On May 16, 2018, Ana Suda and Martha Hernandez were shopping at a convenience store in the small town of Havre, Montana, where both reside, when they were seized and detained by CBP Agent Paul O’Neill. While in the checkout line, Ms. Hernandez gave a friendly hello to Defendant O’Neill who was in line behind them. He responded by asking the two women where they were born. Although Ms. Suda and Ms. Hernandez told the agent they were U.S. citizens, born in Texas and California, respectively, Defendant O’Neill proceeded to detain them. Even after giving Defendant O’Neill their Montana driver’s licenses, they were detained for forty minutes. The only reason both Defendant O’Neill and his supervisor subsequently gave for their detention was that Ms. Suda and Ms. Hernandez were speaking Spanish.

On February 14, 2019, the ACLU of Montana filed an action against CBP and its agents for violations of Ms. Suda and Ms. Hernandez’s Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights. The complaint alleges that Defendant O’Neill stated he had asked for identification “because I came in [the convenience store] and saw that you guys are speaking Spanish which is very unheard of up here.” Defendant O’Neill’s supervisor confirmed that the women had been singled out for speaking Spanish and specifically admitted that CBP doesn’t detain individuals for speaking French.

The complaint alleges that other Latinos in the community similarly have been targeted by CBP agents. The suit names as defendants CBP, its Commissioner, Defendant O’Neill, and 25 “John Doe” agents. Plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief aimed at preventing CBP officers from stopping and detaining individuals solely on the basis of race, accent, and/or speaking Spanish. The Plaintiffs also seek compensatory and punitive damages pursuant to Bivens v. Six Unknown Fed. Narcotics Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971). The government, which is representing all the defendants except for Defendant O’Neill, filed a motion to dismiss on April 19, 2019. Defendant O’Neill, through private counsel, submitted a motion to dismiss the claims for injunctive and declaratory relief. June 4, 2019. Defendant O’Neill did not seek dismissal of the Bivens claim for damages.

Counsel: ACLU Immigrant Rights Project, ACLU of Montana; Crowley Fleck

Contact: Alex Rate | ACLU of Montana Foundation, Inc. | 406.203.3375 | ratea@aclumontana.org

 

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Rios-Diaz, et al. v. Colonel Tom Butler, Montana Highway Patrol, et al.

Rios-Diaz v. Montana Highway Patrol, No. 13-CV-77 (D. Mont. 2014)

On October 7, 2013, the Montana Immigrant Justice Alliance (“MIJA”) and four representative plaintiffs filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana against Colonel Tom Butler, sued in his official capacity as acting Chief Administrator of the Montana Highway Patrol, and Attorney General Tim Fox, sued in his official capacity as head of the Montana Department of Justice.

The lawsuit alleges that Montana Highway Patrol has a policy and practice of seizing Latino drivers or passengers, that a patrol officer believes may be in the country without authorization, for a prolonged period of time–often between forty minutes to two hours. The sole basis for detaining these individuals is to make contact with the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) to ascertain their immigration status and determine if an immigration enforcement officer wishes to assume custody of them.

On April 2, 2015, a final judgment was entered by U.S. District Court Judge Dana L. Christensen, approving an Offer of Judgment provided by Defendants and accepted by Plaintiffs. The settlement requires adherence to a new policy clarifying that Montana State’s Highway Patrol will not stop or prolong detention for purposes for verifying immigration status, even if requested to do so by CBP or ICE. In addition, the judgment also requires, among other things, training for MHP officials as to the new policy, requires MHA to collect data on all traffic stops anytime MHP contacts DHS and requires MHP to submit annual reports regarding racial profiling.

Counsel: Shahid Haque-Hausrath | Border Crossing Law Firm, P.C.

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