ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) has been in the news since Trump first took up residency in the White House, and it’s for all the wrong reasons. Today we learned of another wrong reason.
Almost three months ago, Jose Bello, a 22-year-old Bakersfield college student and farmworker, recited a poem entitled “Dear America”, which criticized the racism and inhumanity transpiring in America. A perfectly legal action and one which, through freedom of speech, is his right.
Two days later, Jose was arrested at his home.
But Jose was not alone, and many organizations jumped into action, including the ACLU of Southern California, which sued ICE for violating his free speech rights. They were joined by The New York Immigrant Freedom Fund, The National Bail Fund Network and now by two members of the NFL Players Coalition, Washington’s Josh Norman and the Saints’ Demario Davis. Together they helped pay the $50,000 bail for Jose, who was released on Monday night to the delight of his family.
“Jose Bello was exercising a fundamental right that we pride ourselves on as Americans,” said Norman in a 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.”
Davis echoed the sentiment expressed by Norman.
“In this month alone, we’ve seen ICE round up a 22-year old father, Jose, because he read a critical poem,” said Davis. “We’ve seen ICE round up nearly 700 people in Mississippi and leave their children without parents, we’ve seen them turn away asylum seekers who will face certain death in their home countries. Is this America? We must say no, and we must start by helping our most vulnerable.”
For 87 days we kept a man from his freedom & family for reciting a poem. Yesterday he was able to post bail. This dehumanizing, psychological torture needs to stop. And we can stop it. Listen to Jose’s poem #DearAmerica https://t.co/FOAbS2zRXg https://t.co/b0c47lEk6s
— Demario Davis #56 (@demario__davis) August 13, 2019
The Players Coalition is comprised of 12 players, including the aforementioned Norman and Davis, along with others like Anquan Boldin and the Eagles’ Malcolm Jenkins.
This wasn’t Bello’s first brush with the law, as he was arrested by ICE in May of 2018, claiming he was part of a local gang. He was released last August on $10,000 bond. Then in January of 2019, he was arrested for DUI but wasn’t detained. ICE arrested him a second time in May of 2019, two days after reading that poem, and while a judge denied the ACLU’s lawsuit, saying there was an “objectively reasonable legal justification”, the judge also stated that ICE’s actions were “highly suggestive of retaliatory intent”.
But Bello is free now, and he wants to do better for himself and his family.
“I just want to be a positive role model to my son,” said Bello about his 1-year old son. “I’m really pushing myself. I feel like I’ve come a long way, and if nobody else recognizes it, I do.”
It appears than Davis and Norman have recognized it.
“We’ve witnessed a lot these past few years. Yesterday was another example of that, where I saw the price tag on freedom.” wrote Washington’s cornerback in a Tweet.
“We are relieved that Jose is rejoining his family,” said ACLU SoCal Staff Attorney Jordan Wells, “and we will continue to stand with him and our community allies as they call out ICE abuses.”
Jose, and others in his situation, have the support of organizations like the ACLU. But now they could have additional support from the likes of the NFL Players Coalition and, possibly, the league itself through it’s new partnership with Jay Z and Roc Nation.
It’s a situation which reminds us of the old saying in football- it pays to have a great defense.