Mohanad Elshieky: Comedian granted asylum in US forced off bus and told his papers are fake

Mr Elshieky questioned legality of action taken by officials against him 

Luz Lazo
Tuesday 29 January 2019 15:17 GMT
Libyan 'genius of comedy' Mohanad Elshieky gives TEDx talk

A Portland-based comedian says US Customs and Border Protection agents forced him to get off a Greyhound bus in Spokane, Washington, on Sunday and show proof of citizenship. The agents then accused him of having fake documents, comedian Mohanad Elshieky said in a Twitter thread that went viral, reviving outrage about the agency's practice of boarding intercity buses and demanding identification and proof of citizenship from passengers.

"I explained to them that I was granted asylum here in the United States, and that the work permit they currently hold and the license are impossible to get unless your presence here is legal," said Mr Elshieky, a native of Libya. The interrogation went on for 20 minutes, he said. "They told me that I was lying and these could pretty much be falsified."

US Customs and Border Protection officials have said the agency had been doing such "routine" checks for several years, but civil rights advocates have described the searches as uncommon. A request for comment to CBP on the Spokane incident was not immediately answered.

At the Spokane Greyhound station where Mr Elshieky was asked to get off his Portland-bound bus, officials have described multiple instances in which Border Patrol agents checked passenger identification. A city council member two years ago said he learned Border Patrol conducts routine bus checks "a couple of times a day."

However, complaints have increased and the incidents have garnered more attention amid the debate over US border protection and President Donald Trump's demand that a wall be built along the nation's southern border.

On the East Coast, a video went viral last year showing a Border Patrol officer asking Greyhound passengers for identification and taking a woman into custody. In that case, a bus en route in Florida from Orlando to Miami was stopped in Fort Lauderdale on a Friday afternoon when two uniformed officers boarded the bus and introduced themselves as Border Patrol agents. Border Patrol officials later said the inspection had lead to the detention of "a passenger who was illegally residing in the United States."

Border Patrol practices have ignited lawsuits and also protests targeting Greyhound. Lawyers in California last fall asked a state judge to order Greyhound to stop allowing federal immigration agents to board its buses to demand proof of citizenship from passengers. Greyhound, the country's largest motor coach operator, has responded by sending alerts to passengers about their rights should immigration officers board buses.

The company advises passengers that they have "the right to remain silent," to refuse a search of their belongings and to not answer questions about citizenship or immigration status. Riders also have the right to refuse to sign paperwork without the advice of a lawyer, the company advises.

"As a passenger on an intercity bus, you should know that federal officials may stop and board a bus within 100 miles of any border under federal law. You may be asked questions and/or for documentation," the company warns riders.

In an October statement, the company said it understood customers' concerns about Border Patrol practices and that while it neither coordinates with nor supports the agency's actions, it intends to comply with federal law.

Mr Elshieky's tweetstorm prompted new outrage over the practice.

"I am absolutely ashamed and sorry this has happened to you," Spokane City Council member Kate Burke tweeted at Mr Elshieky, citing a City Council measure to prevent the federal agents from conducting such searches that hasn't been executed.

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez retweeted Mr Elshieky's thread and offered the incident to support her call for eliminating Immigration and Customs Enforcement. (The inspection, however, was conducted by the sister agency, CBPder Patrol).

Mr Elshieky questioned the legality of the search, the agents' procedures to verify his legal status, and Greyhound's power to keep border patrol officer off their buses.

He said officers got on the phone with immigration officials to verify his status, and he could hear "the person on the end of the line saying that yes they can see my name and yes, I entered the country legally," Mr Elshieky wrote. But the agency, he said, "ended the call and then said 'there are no records of your Asylum.'"

He said it's "ridiculous" to think he needs to be carrying his Asylum approval on him when he has other form of identification.

"I have never felt as terrible as I did today. I have never imagined that I would have to go through this," Mr Elshieky said. "@GreyhoundBus. You could have easily not let those agents on the bus."

The Washington Post

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