Comedian pulled off Greyhound bus, questioned by Border Patrol agents in Spokane

SPOKANE, Wash. -- A comedian from Portland, Oregon, isn't laughing after his encounter with Border Patrol agents in Spokane, Washington.

Mohanad Elshieky was ordered by Border Patrol agents to get off the Greyhound bus as he was preparing to travel back to Portland after a performance Saturday in Pullman.

In a tweet thread that has since gone viral, Elshieky said that he was interrogated for 20 minutes by agents who contended his papers were fake and that he was in the country illegally.

A U.S. Customs and Border Patrol spokesman said Elshieky stated he was from Libya and presented the agents with an Oregon driver's license and an employment authorization card. The spokesman said that neither is considered a valid document to satisfy a federal law requiring a non-citizen immigrant who is not a minor to carry certain documentation.

Failure to comply is a misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum $100 fine and maximum 30-day prison sentence.

Elshieky tweeted that he was granted asylum and has lived in the United States for five years. He told KPTV in Portland that he originally came to the U.S. for a 6-week student exchange program at Portland State University.

"Things really escalated back home, to the point where it was like very dangerous for me personally to go back," he said. "So I just decided that I am going to stay here in the U.S. and just applied for political asylum."

Eventually, after verifying his legal status, the agents on Sunday released him and told him to carry proper paperwork, according to Elshieky.

The situation has revived an argument about whether immigration officials should be allowed to board Greyhound buses without a warrant. Current federal law allows immigration officials to stop, board and search buses that are within 100 air miles of any border. Spokane is just under the 100-mile mark from the U.S.-Canadian border.

Greyhound has repeatedly called for Congress to change the law that allows that practice and encourages citizens to contact their congressional representatives to support a legislative change.

In the past, the company has said it doesn't want to put its drivers' safety at risk by attempting to stop a federal agent from conducting a check.

The Spokane City Council in October voted to restrict such searches at the Spokane Intermodal Bus Station  but Mayor David Condon has refused to enforce the law.

The encounter has garnered national attention from politicians and human rights organizations.

Washington Sen. Patty Murray said, "Simply  living or traveling near the border should not be a sufficient reason to hassle or detain people in Washington state. I will continue to push for legislation to reset the balance between giving federal law enforcement the tools they need to protect the border and protecting the rights of people who live or travel near our national borders."

Last year, Murray introduced a bill that would have reduced the border zone where CBP officials can stop and search vehicles from 100 miles down to 25 miles. Her office said she plans to reintroduce the bill in 2019.

Democratic Rep. Adam Smith said his office has spoken with Elshieky and the ACLU. He said, "Searches like this violate civil liberties and must stop."

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Washington, said, "I am opposed to agents pulling passengers off Greyhound buses at random and I stand against policies that allow Border Patrol to conduct enforcement hours away from the border itself."

Requests for comment from some Washington Republican lawmakers have not been returned at this time.

Last November, Elshieky gave a TEDx Talk about his journey from Benghazi, Libya to Portland, Oregon.

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