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An Immigrant’s Long Ride Home | Pop-Up Magazine

As a stand-up comedian, I often perform at colleges.

For the most part, these shows tend to go well.

Last January at Washington State University was not one of those times.

The students were promised extra credit to attend.

The only time they laughed was when I said “I’m taking a Greyhound bus back home to Portland tomorrow and if the bus crashes, it will not be the worst thing that happened this week.

This is much worse.

” The next morning, I headed to the station and boarded my bus.

When I looked up, I saw two men in green uniforms walking down the aisle.

One of them approached me and asked for ID.

I handed him my driver’s license.

He looked at it and asked if I was a citizen.

I said no.

He asked for my passport.

I told him I didn’t have it, but I had my employment authorization.

That’s when he told me to follow him off the bus.

Standing on the curb, I saw two other men who’d also been pulled off — one was speaking Spanish.

I realized the men in the uniforms must be from ICE — Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

And they hadn’t asked everyone on the bus for their documents.

No, they assumed I wasn’t from here.

They saw me and were like “This guy looks…too handsome to be from Spokane, Washington.

” They were right.

I came to the U.

S.

from Libya in 2014 on a student visa.

A month after I got here, things got pretty bad back home.

I had been an interpreter for American journalists and the U.

S.

Embassy so the extremist militias assumed I was an undercover agent.

Which I took as a compliment — I’m glad they think I’m that smart; I’ll take validation from anyone.

But it wasn’t safe for me to go back.

So I applied for political asylum and after four years of forms and interviews and background checks my asylum was finally granted.

One officer took my documents and stepped a few feet away.

He read my immigration number into his radio.

After some back and forth, I heard him say “OK, so it is in the system.

” And I was like — OK, good.

I’m glad we figured this out.

Then he came back to where I was standing and said: “Yeah, so I just checked.

There’s no record of your asylum anywhere in the system.

” I’d never been questioned like I was a criminal before.

Good thing I’d done my research — and by that, I mean I’d watched every season of Law and Order.

It turns out saying your Seventh Amendment rights are being violated when you have no idea what the Seventh Amendment says… doesn’t really work.

The officers just got more pissed.

I looked over at the Spanish-speaking man next to me.

They were just going at him with questions, and no one was translating.

The officers huddled together.

Then one came up to me and said “We’re gonna let you go… this time.

” I practically ran back to the bus.

As we pulled away, I looked out of the window.

The officers were putting the Spanish-speaking man into the back of their van.

At this point, I was both furious and confused.

So I started Googling.

I learned the green uniforms meant the officers didn’t work for ICE but Customs and Border Patrol.

Federal law allows Border Patrol to conduct sweeps at any transportation hub within 100 miles of the border.

This zone covers some of the densest cities in the country — two-thirds of the U.

S.

population.

Spokane was just at the edge of that zone, about 90 miles from Canada and notorious for these kinds of searches.

Which is fascinating that these agents think someone would want to leave Canada… to come here.

I also learned that Greyhound didn’t have to let Border Patrol on their buses.

They were a private company and could say no.

Eventually, my story made national news — which meant I got to hear my name mispronounced a lot.

Meanwhile, I had constant nightmares about being deported.

I stopped leaving the house and canceled my shows.

The worst part was that now the whole country knew that I was traveling around on Greyhound buses — which is not good for my brand.

One day, I got a call from the ACLU and the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project.

They explained that they’d been fighting for years to stop Border Patrol sweeps and offered to take on my case.

My first reaction was… no way.

We’re not going to do that.

But then I thought back to my panic that day and to the other man who was put in the back of the van.

So this February, I filed a federal lawsuit against Border Patrol.

Just a few days after I filed, Greyhound released a statement ending its practice of allowing Border Patrol onto their buses.

When I tweeted about this whole experience hundreds of people said that if they had been on that bus they would have defended me.

But when I walked back to my seat not a single person looked me in the eye or asked me what happened outside.

People were just upset because now, we were late.

I have never felt lonelier or more out of place than when I got back on that bus — and I’m saying that as someone who has been to an Ariana Grande concert as an adult.

I still get messages on social media about the whole thing.

A lot are from people cheering my case on.

But others condemn me for suing Border Patrol.

They say I am being ungrateful and that if I don’t like it here I should just go home.

My answer to those messages is always the same… “I am home.

” [music].

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