Did the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency violate the First Amendment rights of a Bakersfield College student when they arrested him 36 hours after he read a poem against the agency in a public forum?
The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California is alleging just that in a court order filed in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco on behalf of the student, 22-year-old Jose Bello.
Bello made headlines in 2018 after ICE arrested him and his brother, Oscar Bello-Reyes, and claimed both were members of a local street gang with criminal convictions for violent offenses.
Some at BC rallied behind Bello, who denied being a part of a gang. He was eventually released from ICE custody after raising $10,000 bail with community help.
But in mid-May, ICE arrested Bello again less than two days after he appeared at a TRUTH Act forum held by the Kern County Board of Supervisors, in which he read a poem titled, “Dear America.”
“I’m here to let you know, we want to feel safe, whether we’re Brown, Asian, or Black,” he said at the meeting, which provided an opportunity for the public to view details of the Kern County Sheriff’s Office’s interactions with ICE. “We don’t want your jobs. We don’t want your money. We’re here to work hard, pay taxes, and study.”
The ACLU says that less than 36 hours later, Bello was in ICE custody after agents came to his Bakersfield home at 6:30 a.m. for the arrest.
“The close succession of these two events strongly indicates that ICE acted in retaliation against Mr. Bello for his speech expressing views against the agency’s actions,” the ACLU wrote in court documents. “If left unaddressed, ICE’s actions will chill immigrant speakers from sharing criticisms of the agency at the very same time that it's escalating aggression and increasing use of detention are at the center of public debate.”
An ICE spokesperson declined to comment on the allegations and legal actions taken by the ACLU.
Bello is being held at Mesa Verde in Bakersfield on $50,000 bail as his immigration case makes its way through the court system, the ACLU said in a news release.
The ACLU has filed a writ of habeus corpus, which disputes the legal grounds on which Bello is being detained.
A hearing in San Francisco has been scheduled for Wednesday, and Bello is expected to appear via teleconference.
“Our client is a beloved, young activist with many allies and supporters,” ACLU policy advocate Rosa Lopez said in the release. “His poem spoke out against the administration’s cruel and inhumane immigration policies, and he is being persecuted for it.”
After Bello’s first arrest, ICE said Bello and his brother were granted voluntary departure to Mexico after an undisclosed incident. However, after returning to Mexico, ICE said the brothers re-entered the U.S. illegally.
In late January of this year, Bello was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol. He pleaded no contest and was sentenced to three years probation.
Aside from that instance, the ACLU said in court documents Bello had conducted himself responsibly and thrived since his release in August.
During his arrest in May, the ACLU alleges an ICE officer told Bello, “We know who you are and what you’re all about.”
The ACLU says Bello was placed in a holding cell in Bakersfield until approximately 3 p.m. with his hands handcuffed behind his back.
Court documents say the handcuffs cut into Bello’s wrists and ICE officers ignored Bello’s pleas to remove the restraints. He also pleaded to use the restroom, the ACLU said.
“Eventually, he had no choice but to wet himself,” court documents say.
He remained in soiled clothing for hours, according to the ACLU, which stated it was a dehumanizing experience obviously meant to humiliate Bello.
The ACLU also alleged ICE violated Bello’s right to due process by failing to consider Bello’s financial circumstances before setting the bond amount.