Legal immigration is part of the solution to staffing challenges in senior living and other industries, according to numerous organizations representing provider and business interests. But a new lawsuit suggests that at least some Americans may need to become more comfortable with people who may not look or speak as they do, immigrant or not.
Senior living certified nursing assistants Ana Suda and Martha “Mimi” Hernandez were detained in May outside of a Havre, MT, convenience store by a U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Montana and law firm Crowley Fleck, who are representing the women. They filed a complaint Thursday.
Suda and Hernandez are not immigrants. They were born in Texas and California, respectively. But the agent allegedly said that a major reason he asked them where they were born and ordered them to produce identification was that they were “speaking Spanish in the store in a state where it’s predominantly English-speaking.” The women recorded part of the encounter.
“It is unconstitutional to detain people just because of their language, accent or color of their skin,” said Cody Miller, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project.
The lawsuit maintains that the agent’s actions violate the Fourth Amendment, because there was no legitimate reason to “seize” the women, and equal protection, because the agent singled out the women based on race, relying on their use of Spanish as a justification and proxy for race. The women are seeking to permanently block Customs and Border Protection agents from stopping and detaining people based on their race, accent or speaking Spanish.
Suda and Hernandez have lived for years in the town where the incident occurred but now are being “shunned and harassed,” according to the ACLU. Suda’s daughter reportedly has been afraid to speak Spanish since the incident. So perhaps it’s not just customs agents who may want to think of ways to be welcoming to their fellow citizens and others who legally are in the United States.
A little compassion, courtesy and effort to reach common ground might go a long way toward addressing job recruitment and retention issues, and other issues, in this country.