A Bakersfield College student was arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) 36 hours after he recited a poem criticizing the agency at a public event, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Foundation of Southern California.
In mid-May, Bello appeared before the Kern County Board of Supervisors during a public meeting to discuss the sheriff’s office interactions with ICE and read aloud his 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. “We don’t want your jobs. We don’t want your money. We’re here to work hard, pay taxes, and study.”
Thirty-six hours later Bello, who is also a father and a farm worker, awoke at 6:30 in the morning to ICE agents at the door of his home in Bakersfield, California.
The ACLU a legal petition on behalf of Bello in San Francisco’s District Court, arguing that Bello’s First Amendment rights were violated with his arrest. Bello is being held on a $50,000 bond.
“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.”
The ACLU also alleges an ICE officer told Bello, “We know who you are and what you’re all about.”
This is not Bello’s first encounter with ICE. In August 2018, he and his brother Oscar Bello-Reyes were released from the agency’s custody on $10,000 bond after spending three months in detention because ICE claimed they were linked to street gangs. Bello has denied any involvement in gangs, claiming the agency mixed him up with another person. The neighborhood he grew up was known for its gangs, but the Bello brothers had no adult criminal record.
In late January 2019, Bello was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol. He pleaded no contest and was sentenced to three years probation. His lawyers at the ACLU have argued that since then he has conducted himself responsibly.
When Bello was arrested in May he was placed in a holding cell, handcuffed until around 3 p.m. According to court documents, officers ignored pleas to remove the restraints so he could use the bathroom. “Eventually, he had no choice but to wet himself,” lawyers wrote. He remained in those soiled clothes for hours.