This man's encounter with border patrol should have us all brushing up on our legal rights.

A comedian traveling by bus in Washington state shared his not-so-funny, Gestapo-esque encounter with U.S. border patrol agents.

Mohanad Elshieky is a stand-up comedian originally from Benghazi, Libya (yes, that Benghazi) but is living in Portland Oregon. Elshieky told  Willamette Week that he was officially granted political asylum in the U.S. in October 2018, which makes him a legal resident of the United States.

However, that status appeared to not matter to the immigration officials who allegedly boarded the bus Elshieky was on this weekend.


"This morning," Elshieky wrote on Twitter, "ICE agents got on my Greyhound bus that was headed from Spokane to Portland. They walked around before they asked me and few others to step outside and took my documents and interrogated me for around 20 mins then claimed my papers were fake and that I’m 'illegal'."

"I explained to them that I was granted Asylum here in the United States," he continued, "and that the work permit they currently hold and the license are impossible to get unless your presence here is legal. They told me that I was lying and these could pretty much be falsified."

Elshieky provided his documentation, but the border patrol agents insisted that he was "illegal."

Elshieky wrote that the agents called immigration to verify his information, and he could hear the person on the phone say that he was in the country legally. But, he said, "The ICE agent ended the call and then said 'there are no records of your Asylum' and I again said that was impossible. Then said I should had my Asylum approval on me which is ridiculous, why would I carry that where I have my IDs."

Elshieky told Willamette Week that his immigration lawyer had told him that carrying his ID and his work permit would be sufficient for proving his legal status if it ever came up. But the agents were unrelenting, insisting that he needed different "papers."

Elshieky said he'd "never felt as terrible" as he did during the experience—which is saying a lot considering he's an asylee.

This is a man who has been granted asylum, meaning that the U.S. government has determined that it is unsafe for him to be sent back to his home country. And yet, that same government is now allegedly using classic anti-immigrant intimidation tactics to harass him and make him feel unwelcome in his adopted country.

"To be honest, I have never felt as terrible as I did today," he wrote. "I have never imagined that I would have to go through this."

"It was an another reminder that even though I have been here for 5 years working my ass off, I was still considered 'Other,' he wrote, "and I have never felt as alone as I did in that station full of people."

Elshieky shared a photo of the agents and discovered that what he originally thought was ICE were likely Customs and Border Patrol agents. The main difference between ICE and CBP is that CBP patrols border areas, whereas ICE operates in all areas of the United States. Spokane, WA is about 120 miles from the Canadian border. (Just outside the standard 100-miles from a border boundary, which is CBP's jurisdiction.)

Stories like this should have us all brushing up on our legal rights—and questioning what we're willing to give up for "security."

If this story is true, it paints a terrifying picture of a government agency with enormous power over the lives of individuals using racial discrimination and intimidation tactics to harass people. Any one of us could be accused of being here illegally, and if we don't have the proper "papers" could be subject to all manner of injustices.

The ACLU has provided an infographic detailing your rights if you are stopped by a border patrol agent. At the very least, Elshieky's story is reminder for us to brush up on those legal protections, both for our own sake and for the people around us.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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