BAKERSFIELD — Farm worker, student, and activist Jose Bello read a poem he wrote, "Dear America," before the Kern County Board of Supervisors in May. It protested actions by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents.
The poem read, in part:
"I speak for the victims that pay for this scam: Vietnamese, Jamaican, African, Cambodian, Mexican, Salvadoran, on and on, together we stand.
We demand our respect. We want our dignity back.
Our roots run deep in this country, now that’s a true fact."
"I'm here to let you know, we want to feel safe — whether we're Brown, Asian, or Black.
We don’t want your jobs. We don’t want your money.
We’re here to work hard, pay taxes, and study."
Less than 36 hours after reading the poem, ICE agents came to Bello's home in Bakersfield at 6:30 a.m. and arrested him. One of the agents told him, "We know who you are and what you're about."
Bello, 22, was imprisoned at the Mesa Verde Detention Center on an ICE-imposed bond of $50,000, a hugely unjust amount given that Bello, who is also a student at Bakersfield College, has an annual income of about $20,000.
The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California has filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in United States District Court in San Francisco, arguing that Bello's arrest violates the First Amendment, as ICE agents have repeatedly, "specifically targeted activists who publicly criticize its immigration enforcement practices."
A video of Bello reading his poem before the board can be seen at https://youtu.be/AYIt-euHKuY
The ACLU SoCal court filing asks that Bello, who was brought to the U.S. at the age of three, be released while his immigration case makes its way through the courts, a process that could take months or even years. Alternatively, the filing asks that his bail be reduced to a more just amount.
Bello was previously arrested on an immigration charge in 2018 and released on a $10,000 bond that community groups helped raise. He has spoken out since then against conditions in Mesa Verde.
"Our client is a beloved, young activist with many allies and supporters," said Rosa Lopez, SoCal policy advocate and organizer. "His poem spoke out against the administration's cruel and inhumane immigration policies, and he is being persecuted for it. We can't and won't allow ICE or other law enforcement agencies intimidate us to stay silent."
A hearing is scheduled in immigration court tomorrow (June 26) in San Francisco on his case. Bello will likely attend via teleconferencing from Mesa Verde.
Bakersfield College students and community organizations have planned activities to protest his arrest and the conditions at Mesa Verde: https://www.facebook.com/FreeJoseBello/.
Octavio Barajas was one of Bello's teachers at Bakersfield College. "Jose is an outstanding, high-achieving student whose level of academic engagement far exceeds the average," Barajas said. "And his leaderships skills outside the classroom have motivated many to involve themselves in current issues."
"He deserves a chance to continue contribute to our country in his principled and upright ways."
Read the ACLU SoCal court filing: https://www.aclusocal.org/sites/default/files/aclu_socal_bello_20190625_petition_habeas_corpus_.pdf