San Diego middle school teacher Shane Parmely was driving with her family in New Mexico when she was asked that question at a Border Patrol checkpoint miles from the actual border.
Parmely refused to answer. A member of her family filmed the encounter, which has since gone viral on Facebook.
Parmely, who is white, told KGTV-San Diego that many of her Latino friends are frequently stopped at such checkpoints.
As a result, she believes they are unconstitutional and wanted to register her opposition.
"The people that we see you actually making show papers are all brown," she tells the arresting officer in the video. Parmely and her family were held for about 90 minutes before being released.
According to the ACLU, Border Patrol agents may ask "a few, limited questions to verify the citizenship of the vehicles' occupants," and may not detain drivers for an extended period of time "without cause."
In an email statement to KGTV, the Border Patrol affirmed its right to question Parmely about her immigration status.
A Border Patrol agent stops a vehicle at the U.S.-Mexico border in 2013. Photo by John Moore/Getty Images.
"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," the agency argued.
Nonetheless, Parmely felt it was important to stand up to something she believes is an affront to American values.
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images.
"We would have no civil rights if people didn't question authority or challenge the status quo," she said in an interview with KGTV.
As a white woman, Parmely explains, she realizes she likely had the privilege of being waved through with a quick "yes, I'm a citizen."
Nonetheless, she couldn't simply tolerate the brief inconvenience because many of her non-white friends and colleagues don't have that luxury. As she told the station, "When you see something that is clearly racist, you have a choice."