SPOKANE, Wash. — The comedian who sued the US Border Patrol after a 2019 incident at the Spokane Intermodal Center has reached a settlement with the government that will result in them paying him $35,000.
Mohanad Elshieky gained national attention after posting about the incident on Twitter.
Elshieky was based in Portland at the time (he has since moved to New York) and was returning home via Greyhound from a gig at Washington State University in Pullman. Border Patrol agents boarded his bus and began questioning passengers. They pulled four of them off the bus, including Elshieky, who says none of the other three were white. Elshieky is originally from Libya and received asylum in the United States.
Elshieky says the agents demanded he show documents, and then when he did, accused his of being fake, and generally behaved with hostility despite having no reason to believe any crime had been committed.
He was eventually allowed back on the bus, but the incident has affected him long-term, Elshieky told KREM in an interview Thursday.
"I'm just feeling like I'm not safe anymore," he said. "Throughout the past year I tried not to even get a speeding ticket or a parking ticket. I'm trying to avoid law enforcement as much as possible. I do not want to give them any excuses to put me in any trouble."
With the help of the ACLU and the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, Elshieky sued the Border Patrol for detaining him without cause.
And Thursday, they announced they had reached a settlement. The government will pay Elshieky, and another man who had a similar experience, $35,000 each.
Aaron Korthuis, an attorney for the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, says he hopes the settlement will send a message that Border Patrol needs to be more respectful of people's rights.
"The Border Patrol, they have to have a reason to arrest somebody. It can't just be 'well I know you're from a foreign country, so I'm going to arrest and detain you because maybe you're hear unlawfully.' That's not the case for lots of people who are here even if they are from another country," said Korthuis. "So what it boils down to is under the 4th Amendment, law enforcement has to have a reason to detain you, and that wasn't the case here."
The whole ordeal raised debate about the Border Patrol practice of boarding buses at the Intermodal Center to begin with. The Spokane City Council tried to ban the practice via ordinance, but the Border Patrol said it was protected by federal law.
Right now, Korthuis says the bus checks are not happening. That's in part because of operational changes made during the pandemic.
But what also likely played a role was a leaked internal memo in which Border Patrol's own lawyers acknowledged agents need probable cause or consent from the bus company to board.
After that memo was published, Greyhound announced they would no longer allow agents on their buses without a reason. Previously, the company had said it didn't like the practice but was powerless to stop it.
Elshieky says he's pleased with the final outcome, but is glad this is over.
"I'm very happy that it's finally over and I don't need to think about it anymore. It's been two years, and I just feel like the case has been in the back of my head this whole time, and I'm just happy that I don't need to think about it anymore," he said. "If it helps anyone avoid a situation like that, then it's been worth it."
Border Patrol had not provided KREM with comment on the settlement as of Wednesday night.