A San Diego middle school teacher and her two children were detained at an immigration checkpoint in New Mexico last week after she refused to tell Border Patrol agents whether she was a U.S. citizen, in an incident that garnered national attention after videos of the tense encounter went viral.
With cellphone in hand, one of Shane Parmely’s children started recording from the back seat of their vehicle as the mother approached the inland checkpoint. She was subsequently stopped by a male agent who asked whether she and her children were citizens, according to video posted to her Facebook page last Friday.
“Are we crossing a border?” a surprised Parmely responded.
“No,” he said. “Are you United States citizens?”
“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.”
The exchange continued, with Parmely telling him she didn’t think she had to answer his questions. The agent then takes out a card listing immigration laws and Supreme Court cases, showing her that agents have the authority to operate such checkpoints within 100 miles of the U.S. border.
“I’m passing (on) a federally-funded highway, driving, minding my own business. And I get pulled over and asked if I’m a citizen,” she remarked amid the lengthy exchange.
When she continued to decline to answer his questions, Parmely and her family were detained at the checkpoint for an immigration inspection.
At one point, she told him she was refusing out of protest and in solidarity with her friends; she noted they or their children have been “discriminated against.”
“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?” Parmely asked the agent. “I have a bunch of teacher friends who are sick of their kids being discriminated against.”
The agent stated he wasn’t “discriminating against anyone.”
Parmely later explained to television station KFMB in San Diego that she had friends whose children were interrogated away from the U.S. border, something she found appalling.
“It’s just horrifying to hear what’s happened to my friends’ kids, who are just brown,” she told the station.
Parmely’s friend and fellow teacher, Gretel Rodriguez, said her children have experienced it first-hand.
“Her kids don’t go through any of that,” Rodriguez told KFMB. “And still, every time we go, my kids get aggressively interrogated.”
Parmely told the station she was detained for about 90 minutes.
During that time, her son had to use the bathroom. One agent, a woman, told her he couldn’t use it until she answered the citizenship question; however, a short time later, a male agent intervened and escorted him to a restroom, the footage showed.
The family was eventually released without having to answer any questions, the San Diego-Union Tribune reported.
A Border Patrol spokesman issued a statement about the incident to the newspaper. The statement read:
“Border Patrol checkpoints are a critical tool for the enforcement of our nation’s immigration laws. 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.”
Various parts of the interaction were posted in a series of seven videos on her personal Facebook page, which she made public. Some commenters expressed their support for Parmely, while others were critical.