Jose Bello, the Bakersfield College student who was arrested by immigration authorities after reading an anti-ICE poem in May, has been released from detention after two NFL players helped post his $50,000 bail.
In his first comments to The Californian since his release on Aug. 12, Bello said he was very happy and blessed to be reunited with his family after being held at the Mesa Verde ICE Processing Center in Bakersfield for around three months.
“I knew I had very good legal representation and I knew my attorneys had my best interests in mind,” said Bello, who is represented by attorneys from the United Farm Workers Foundation as well as the American Civil Liberties Union Foundations of Southern California and Northern California. “It happened so quick and just kind of at the last minute, I didn’t have a chance to sit and reflect on it. To be honest, it felt very very good.”
Washington Redskins cornerback Josh Norman and New Orleans Saints linebacker Demario Davis helped pay for Bello’s release through the NFL Players Coalition, a social justice program composed of professional football players.
The New York Immigration Freedom Fund and National Bail Fund Network also contributed to the bail payment.
“Jose Bello was exercising a fundamental right that we pride ourselves on as Americans,” Norman said in a news release. “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 First Amendment is freedom of speech, unless I missed the memo somewhere. He was exercising that right.”
Bello was first arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in May of 2018 and detained at Mesa Verde to await court proceedings on his immigration case.
ICE said at the time Bello, along with his brother, Oscar Bello-Reyes, had criminal convictions for violent offenses committed as a juvenile.
When asked on Aug. 13 about those convictions, Bello said he was trying to be a better person and provide for his family.
“I’m working really really hard on bettering myself,” he said. “I’m working every day to become a better person."
Bello first entered the U.S. as a 3-year-old child in 2000, according to court documents filed by the ACLU. He lived in California for most of his life, the documents say, eventually working as a farmworker and studying at BC.
After posting $10,000 bond raised by the community, Bello was released from custody.
In May of this year, ICE arrested Bello a second time about 36 hours after he read a poem titled “Dear America” at an immigration forum held by the Kern County Board of Supervisors. The poem criticized ICE and the administration of President Donald Trump for its treatment of immigrants.
Although the ACLU lost a lawsuit saying Bello’s First Amendment rights had been violated, a federal judge in San Francisco called ICE’s actions, “highly suggestive of retaliatory intent” in a ruling.
A drunk driving charge in January in which Bello pleaded no contest was enough to justify the second ICE arrest, the judge found, although the ACLU claimed too much time passed between the two incidents for them to be connected.
“The real message that they were trying to get across was if we start talking out against ICE and that administration, there will be consequences,” Bello said on Aug. 13. “It was a way of intimidating me. It did scare me and I know that they don’t do that to everybody.”
After his release, Bello will be free as his immigration case goes through the court system.
He said he will pursue an associates degree in business administration at Bakersfield College in hopes of becoming a lawyer one day.
“I just want to be a positive role model to my son,” he said, referring to his 1-year-old child. “I’m really pushing myself. I feel like I’ve come a long way, and if nobody else recognizes it, I do.”