SPOKANE — A comedian from Portland, Oregon, has filed an administrative complaint against U.S. Customs and Border Protection seeking $250,000 in damages after he was pulled off a bus in Spokane.
The complaint says Mohanad Elshieky was detained by Border Patrol officers even after producing valid identification documents demonstrating that he was lawfully present in the United States.
His complaint contends Border Patrol officers racially profiled Elshieky and falsely arrested and detained him for about 20 minutes on Jan. 27.
The government has six months to grant, deny, or negotiate the amount of damages. If there is no resolution, Elshieky could sue in federal court.
Stephanie Malin, a spokeswoman for Customs and Border Protection, said the agency could not comment on matters of pending litigation.
“I would hope that the same immigration officials that expect me to follow the law would do the same and respect my rights,” Elshieky said in a news release. “I hope that by taking action over the way Border Patrol officers treated me, others will not have to experience the same, degrading mistreatment that I faced.”
Elshieky, who was granted asylum in the United States in 2018, was detained by the Border Patrol at the Greyhound Bus Station in the Spokane Intermodal Center. Border Patrol agents ordered him to get off the bus as he was preparing to travel back to Portland after a performance in Pullman.
Elshieky said he was interrogated for 20 minutes by agents who contended his papers were fake and that he was in the country illegally.
Previously, a spokesman for Customs and Border Protection 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 to carry certain documentation.
Eventually, the agents released Elshieky and told him to carry proper paperwork.
The complaint seeks damages under the Federal Tort Claims Act, which says officials can be liable for interference with a person’s freedom of movement that amounts to an unlawful arrest or false imprisonment.
Elshieky is represented by the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project and the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington.
“Border Patrol must be held accountable for trampling the constitutional rights of our community members,” said Matt Adams, legal director for the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project. “Arrests like this one are especially egregious because Border Patrol knows very well theses buses are not coming from or going to the international border.”
Lisa Nowlin, attorney for ACLU of Washington, agreed. “Spokane is not a constitution-free zone and people do not give up their rights when traveling by bus,” she said.