Bell Middle School teacher Shane Parmely was detained for over an hour by Border Patrol agents at a checkpoint in New Mexico because she refused to say whether she was a U.S. citizen.
Parmely’s family helped her film the incident, which she posted Friday evening on her Facebook account in several segments that were widely shared. Parmely told Border Patrol agents that she believed she did not have to answer their questions. One agent showed her a card listing immigration law and a Supreme Court case decision that give Border Patrol agents authority to operate checkpoints within 100 miles of the border and to ask questions about citizenship without warrants.
“Citizens?” an agent asked her as she drove up to the checkpoint.
“Are we crossing a border?” Parmely responded.
“No. Are you United States citizens?” he repeated.
“Are we crossing a border?” Parmely repeated. “I’ve never been asked if I’m a citizen before when I’m traveling down the road.”
As the agent continued to repeat his question, Parmely told him that he could ask her the question, but she didn’t have to answer.
“You are required to answer an immigration question,” the agent said. “You are not required to answer any other questions.”
When Parmely refused to answer the question, the agent told her that she was being detained for an immigration inspection.
“So if I just come through and say, ‘Yes, I’m a citizen,’ I can just go ahead?” Parmely asked.
“If the agent is justified by the answer, then yes,” the agent responded.
“So if I have an accent, and I’m brown, can I just say, ‘Yes,’ and go ahead or do I have to prove it?” she asked. “I have a bunch of teacher friends who are sick of their kids being discriminated against.”
“Ok, I’m not discriminating against anybody,” the agent said.
Later during the encounter, Parmely’s son asked to use the bathroom. One agent told Parmely that he could not use the bathroom until his mother answered the question about her citizenship. Another agent came over shortly after to escort the boy to a bathroom.
Border Patrol agents eventually let Parmely go without answering their question.
While most praised Parmely for her actions, some criticized what they saw as disrespect to law enforcement doing their jobs.
“I’m SICK of people claiming that law enforcement is the problem. Until of course you need them,” wrote Jaime N Jerry Bevan, who said that her husband is a detective.
Parmely responded, “What was the point of refusing to move to the back of the bus?”
“Enforcing racist laws perpetuates institutional racism,” Parmely added in another comment. “I’m sick of helping perpetuate racist laws just because I’m not inconvenienced by them.”
Parmely responded to a Facebook message from a Union-Tribune reporter, saying she might be able to talk later but could not for now.
The school website indicates that she teaches English, art and theater.
According to a flier from the American Civil Liberties Union, Border Patrol has the authority to stop vehicles at checkpoints and ask questions to verify citizenship.
The flier says that people can exercise their right to remain silent but may be detained if they refuse to answer citizenship questions. Agents cannot detain someone for an extended time without cause.
Border Patrol spokesman Mark Endicott issued a statement in response to the incident saying the agency’s policy is to treat people with dignity and respect.
“Border Patrol checkpoints are a critical tool for the enforcement of our nation’s immigration laws,” the statement said. “At a Border Patrol checkpoint, an agent may question a vehicle’s occupants about their citizenship, place of birth, and request document proof of immigration status, how legal status was obtained and make quick observations of what is in plain view in the interior of the vehicle.
“During the course of the immigration inspection, if an occupant refuses to answer an agent’s questions, the agent may detain the driver for a reasonable amount of time until he or she can make a determination regarding the occupant’s immigration status.”