I received an alert from Google last night. It said searches for Havre, Montana were up a whopping 355% over the past week (May 15, 2018 to May 21, 2018). Traffic to my photos of Havre on my website also increased dramatically last week, too. So, unless you don’t pay attention to the national news (and who can blame you if you don’t), you probably know the reason why.
To review, last Wednesday two U.S. citizens were stopped and questioned by an agent from the Border Patrol in the wee hours of the morning when they were heard speaking Spanish to each other inside the Town Pump gas station in Havre. One of the two women, whose name is Ana Suda, was born in Texas. She was shopping for groceries with a friend when the agent from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency stopped them and asked to see their IDs. That’s when one of the women pulled out her cell phone and began recording. Not long after the video was posted YouTube it went viral and made national headlines. No small surprise in today’s political climate.
The last time Havre made the national news was in October of last year when more than a dozen inches of snow fell on the area. Havre also made headlines again when we learned something those living here already knew…Havre experienced the worst winter in the country. All of those stories prove it is seldom a good thing when Havre is in the national news.
To someone not from Havre, or even the region, it might seem odd to see a Border Patrol agent stopping someone because they are speaking Spanish. While polite, the agent might have handled the situation better, but there’s a reason why people like him are Border Patrol agents and not salespeople. Also, Border Patrol agents, like police officers, have a very dangerous and equally thankless job to do these days. My how quickly we all forget how much we loved these men and women back in September 2001. But I digress.
What that agent said to the two women is accurate. There are not a lot of people (if any) who speak Spanish on the Hi-Line here in Montana. In fact, I too would find it odd to hear two people having a conversation in Spanish or any foreign language here…unless of course it is was some Hutterites talking to each other in old German. And if you are not from around here, you probably have no clue what a Hutterite is or what old German sounds like. In Havre, Montana that Border Patrol agent has the right under the law to stop anyone and ask questions regardless of what language they are speaking. Why? Because Havre is a very short distance from the Canadian border.
Now Ana hasn’t lived in Havre a very long time. What she should know is that Havre is located a mere 40 miles from Canada, which places it within a special border protection zone authorized under the Patriot Act where agents are given greater authority to stop people, conduct searches, and ask to see documentation. You may not like the law, but unfortunately in a democratic republic such as the United States, you cannot pick and choose what laws you want to follow. I learned this same lesson when a Border Patrol agent stopped me (no, I wasn’t speaking Spanish) while making photos in downtown Havre in the middle of the night. I reminded the agent it wasn’t illegal for me to make photos while the rest of the city was sleeping. He agreed, but said because I was located within 100 miles of the Canadian border I could be questioned and asked to verify my identification. Of course I complied, but I made sure to verify his claim on the Internet. And he was right. What’s more, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued to have the law changed in 2014. And they lost.
Given the current political climate in our country, many illegal immigrants, the vast majority of whom come from Spanish speaking countries, are now trying to flee into Canada. By doing so, according to Forbes magazine, illegal immigrants entering Canada are channeled into the internal Canadian refugee claims process and can avoid being returned to the United States. And I’m sorry, but Border Patrol agents are hired to do a job…including stopping people who want to illegally enter (or leave) the country.
Again, that Border Patrol agent might have handled the situation better (how I don’t really know), but to those who are unfamiliar with life in the northern reaches of Montana where its citizens are located a very short distance from the largest unfortified border in the world, I think many of you have been overreacting. This is another example of people on both coasts who think they know everything…but simply do not.
I honestly don’t think the Border Patrol agents in Havre care one bit what nationality or race you are. They are trained to spot things that would appear outside the norm. They have a job to do…to protect and defend the United States border. How do I know they don’t care about race or nationality? Because in a community of less than 10,000 people, these same Border Patrol agents are our neighbors and friends; despite the fact none of them were born or raised in Havre. In fact, most of them arrived here from outside of the state.
Frankly, the proof is in the pudding. In 2003 an Iraqi refugee was arrested by Border Patrol agents in Havre for being in the United States illegally. In 2004 a Vietnamese national was arrested for the same thing. A Tunisian citizen and a Palestinian citizen were also arrested for plotting to transport explosives into Montana and derail a passenger train. In 2014 Border Patrol agents arrested an American man riding the Amtrak train when it stopped in Havre because he was caught carrying 17 lbs. of marijuana. In 2017 Montana Border Patrol agents arrested five Romanian nationals who were here illegally. That same year agents arrested a 25 year old Canadian man who entered the United States illegally when he cut down a border fence and drove his truck through. And in a separate incident that same year, Border Patrol agents arrested an Irish man who illegally entered the U.S. from Canada. And arrests like these happen all of the time. Far too numerous to list them all here. Border Patrol agents routinely board the Amtrak train in Havre looking for non-citizens who lack the proper paperwork needed to stay in the country legally. These checks happen every single day. And the rest of the country should not be shocked. If you crossed the border illegally, you are here illegally. But if you are here legally, you should not expect the Border Patrol agents to look the other way just because you are speaking Spanish; just like they didn’t look the other way when I was speaking to no one taking photos of downtown Havre in the middle of the night.
If you found my website and this article because you were searching for more information on what happened to those women in Havre last week, I feel it necessary to tell you that Havre is a wonderful community with people who tend to be very open minded and who also tend to be very family oriented. Once Ana lives here long enough I’m confident she too will know this. Sandwiched between two native American Indian reservations AND located very near several Hutterite colonies AND along a major highway which moves international travelers to and from Glacier National Park AND located a very short distance to an international border, the people here do not live in some sort of secluded enclave of Caucasians who take issue with those who come from a different place and speak in a different tongue. And generally speaking, the people of Havre do not like attention. Especially this sort of attention. So if you are visiting my website to see some of my photos of Havre and Hill County, that’s fine. Please have a look around. But if you are here to stir more of the muck, please move along. There really isn’t much more to see here. Trust me, you have far bigger fish to fry in your own community, thank you.