Jose Bello, a 22-year-old college student and farmworker who was imprisoned for 89 days at the Mesa Verde Detention Center in Bakersfield, California, was released on Monday. The decision by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to hold Bello on $50,000 bail—a sum Bello could not possibly afford to pay himself—seemed closely tied to Bello’s reading of a poem titled “Dear America” at a public forum on California’s Transparent Review of Unjust Transfers and Holds (TRUTH) Act held on May 13 by the Kern County Board of Supervisors in Bakersfield. Two days after that reading, Bello was arrested by ICE agents and held until National Football League players Josh Norman of Washington and Demario Davis of the New Orleans Saints paid for his bail.
Norman released a statement through the ACLU saying, “Jose Bello was exercising a fundamental right that we pride ourselves on as Americans. If he was detained for reciting a peaceful poem then we should really ask ourselves, are our words truly free? This is America right? Where the 1st Amendment is freedom of speech unless I missed the memo somewhere. He was exercising that right.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California has filed a lawsuit on Bello’s behalf, calling ICE’s detention of Bello a retaliatory act infringing on his civil and free speech rights. Bello has been receiving pro bono legal support from the United Farm Workers Foundation. The UFW has been offering its resources to many immigrants targeted by Trump’s racist policies and ICE’s Gestapo-like assaults.
According to The Washington Post, Bello was arrested in May 2018 by ICE agents and accused of being a part of a local street gang. A federal immigration judge ordered Bello released on a $10,000 bond in August of that year. Then Bello was rearrested this January on a misdemeanor DUI charge, but not held. It was not until two days after Bello read his poem that ICE showed up and arrested him for the misdemeanor DUI—four months later.
The football players who helped pay Bello’s bail are members of a group of players who banded together two years ago to point out American injustice and help in any way they could. The group is called Players Coalition.
You can watch Bello read his poem “Dear America” below the fold.