A Portland comedian said he was harassed by Border Patrol agents while on a Greyhound bus headed to Oregon from Spokane, Washington.

The federal agency said the incident was part of a legal, routine immigration check at the Spokane Intermodal bus station. 

Portland resident Mohanad Elsheiky had performed at a comedy show at Washington State University in Pullman over the weekend. On Sunday morning, on his way home, he stopped in Spokane to switch buses. Shortly after he’d taken a seat toward the back of a Greyhound bus, Elsheiky said three people in green uniforms boarded.

Elsheiky said the officers didn’t identify themselves, and he assumed they were checking to make sure everyone on board had a ticket.

He showed them his Oregon driver’s license and was surprised when they asked if he was a citizen.

“I said ‘No, I’m not a citizen,’” he said. “It felt kind of weird.”

Elsheiky is from Libya.

“They were like, ‘OK, come with us outside,’” he said. 

During the Libyan revolution of 2011, Elsheiky worked as a fixer for journalists in his home country and had a radio show. He came to the United States as part of a State Department student exchange program and ended up applying for political asylum in 2014.

Elsheiky said the radio station he’d worked at in Libya was burned down by people who didn’t like its liberal programming, and he received death threats and was accused of being a Western spy.

Elsheiky was granted asylum three months ago, in October, on the grounds that he can’t safely return to Libya. 

He said he explained his status to the Border Patrol agents. They asked if he had any other ID, and he showed them his work permit, issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

“They were not even listening to me. They just kept bringing up the word ‘illegal,’ over and over again,” Elsheiky said.

Since 2013, Border Patrol agents have made about 200 arrests at the Spokane bus station, according to the Spokesman Journal. The arrests have become a major controversy, pitting Spokane’s mayor against a majority of the city council, which has tried to limit the federal agency’s authority.

Elsheiky said he was one of just a few people on the Greyhound bus the agents asked for proof of their legal status. All were people of color, he said. He believes the agents might have been targeting people who looked Hispanic.

Bill Kingsford, a special operations supervisor with the Border Patrol’s Spokane office, confirmed that agents on the bus stopped Elsheiky. But he disputed Elsheiky’s concerns that agents may have engaged in racial profiling.

Kingsford said the agents asked everyone on the bus whether they were citizens, and asked the people who said they were not for proof of their legal immigration status.  

“He presented them with an employment authorization card and a drivers’ license,” Kingsford said of Elsheiky. “The problem is that neither one of those documents are a correct form to show his immigration status here in the country.”

Kingsford said federal law requires immigrants such as Elsheiky to carry the proper documentation proving their status with them at all times.

The law Kingsford cites — 8 USC 1304 — describes a requirement that immigrants with green cards carry them at all times.

Elsheiky, because of his unusual status as a person granted asylum, doesn’t have a green card yet; he must wait until a year after his asylum claim was granted.

On Sunday, the agents eventually made a phone call and confirmed that Elsheiky has asylum status and thus is in the country legally.

But Elsheiky said the agents continued to question him even after that call.

He said an agent told him, erroneously, that “there was not approval of your asylum,” and another agent told him “you should carry your papers on you.”  He said an agent also continued telling him to take his hands out of his pockets despite the bitterly cold temperature.

Kingsford said Elsheiky should have been carrying an additional form, an I-94, to prove his legal status. “He didn’t miss his travel time, and the bus wasn’t delayed,” he said.

Elsheiky said he wasn’t aware he needed to his I-94 for a short trip between states on a Greyhound bus. He doesn’t think he’s supposed to carry those documents with him and fears losing them.

“No one carries a passport with them on a bus,” he said. 

Kingsford said Border Patrol has not reached out to Elsheiky to follow up on this complaint about harassment but is open to having a conversation with him.

For his part, Elsheiky said he’s been contacted by the ACLU of Washington and other groups offering legal assistance.

He expects the Greyhound bus incident will one day become a bit in his act.  

“Once I process all of it, I’m just going to write jokes about it,” he said.


 

This story has been updated to correct the name of the agency involved in this incident. It is the United States Border Patrol.