Portland stand-up comedian Mohanad Elshieky says federal immigration officials interrogated him at the Greyhound station in Spokane, Wash., questioning his legal work permit and ID, even though Elshieky was granted legal asylum status last October.
"This is not about illegal immigration," Elshieky tells WW. "This is about immigration in general from certain countries. They're saying, 'We don't want them to be here and we're going to make it hard for them to be here.'"
Elshieky described his encounter with U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents this morning in a Twitter thread that went viral. Tonight, he provided WW with further details of immigration agents demanding to see his paperwork—then refusing to believe it was real.
Elshieky traveled to Pullman, Wash., this weekend to perform a stand-up set at Washington State University. He left Pullman at 7 am Sunday morning and transferred to another Greyhound bus destined for Portland around 11 am in Spokane.
After stowing his luggage under the bus and taking a seat, Elshieky says green-clad border patrol agents boarded the bus and asked four people to show IDs.
"I thought they were matching IDs to bus tickets," he says. He handed an agent his ID without a second thought. "I assumed they worked for the bus station."
But then the border patrol agent asked Elshieky if he was a U.S. citizen, and alarm bells sounded in his head.
Elshieky told him that he is not, he is a citizen of Libya. Elshieky legally came to the U.S. from Benghazi on a J1 visa in 2014 and applied for political asylum. His asylum claim was granted in October 2018.
The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents were not satisfied with Elshieky's ID, he recalls. He showed them his work permit, which he carries in his wallet.
One of the agents called another immigration official and asked whether the permit number was authentic. Elshieky says the phone was not on speaker, but he could tell that the person on the other line confirmed that the permit was real.
Still unsatisfied, the immigration officials asked for a passport and for proof of Elshieky's asylum approval—a 3-page document that Elshieky says is not practical to carry everywhere. He says his immigration lawyer had advised him that carrying an ID and his work permit would be sufficient to establish his legal status. But the border patrol agents wouldn't bend.
"They kept repeating the word "illegals" over and over and over again," Elshieky says. He started to worry the bus would leave without him because the interrogation was dragging on. He felt the border patrol agents were wrongly detaining him even though he had shown them proof of his legal status. "I said, 'I know for a fact what you're doing now is illegal and that's not okay,'" he recalls.
He says the border patrol agents let him back on the bus, but told him to carry his asylum approval in the future.
A U.S. Customs and Border Patrol spokesperson could not immediately be reached for comment for this story.
Elshieky is not the only person to be confronted by aggressive enforcement efforts at the Spokane Greyhound station.
Reporter Daniel Walters has been covering recent battles between city officials and U.S. Customs and Border Patrol for the Inlander. He writes that municipal leaders cancelled plans to open a social service center at the bus station because of the immigration officials' presence. And Spokane City Council banned Border Patrol sweeps on Greyhound buses, but the mayor has said the rule cannot be enforced.
The Spokane debate fits into a larger trend of local jurisdictions in the western U.S. refusing to cooperate with immigration enforcement. The pushback from local and state governments has frustrated federal employees.
In an email exchange between U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials sent in April 2017, recently obtained by WW, a group of feds urgently tried to put together a plan to detain a man who had been arrested and placed in an Oregon jail. They call him an "illegal alien Mexican".
"This individual sounds like someone we need to get off the streets,"one ICE official wrote. "Like always, the liberal dumpster that is State of Oregon is protecting him."
Another ICE employee eventually replied to the thread to say that the man was actually a U.S. citizen who was born in California.
Elshieky says he's never been confronted by immigration officials before. The experience left him feeling upset, profiled and worried.
"The whole argument of politicians or people on the news—'Just do it the legal way. Come here legally, that's all you need to do'—this kind of proves that doesn't matter at all," he says.