ICE Officials Arrest Activist for Reciting Poem Criticizing Immigration Policy

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California has filed a petition for an activist arrested in California just two days after he read a poem at a public forum criticizing the Trump administration’s immigration policies.

Jose Omar Bello Reyes, 22, read his poem titled “Dear America” at a public forum in Bakersfield, California on May 15, according to the petition for writ of habeas corpus filed by the ACLU. In a video posted by the Bakersfield Californian, Bello can be seen at the TRUTH Act public forum reading his poem, which details interactions with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency.“I’m here to let you know, we want to feel safe — whether we’re Brown, Asian, or Black,” Bello read. “We don’t want your jobs. We don’t want your money. We’re here to work hard, pay taxes, and study.”

The ACLU states in its petition that 36 hours after reading his poem, Bello was arrested by ICE agents.

The 22-year-old had been previously arrested by immigration agents in 2018 with his brother, Oscar Bello Reyes, the Bakersfield Californian reported. Bello, who arrived in the US when he was a toddler, was released in August 2018 after community organizations raised his $10,000 bond, The Guardian reported.

Bello is currently being held at the Mesa Verde Detention Center in Bakersfield on a $50,000 bond, according to the organization’s petition. The petition notes that the bond amount is “five times the amount set just months ago by an immigration judge” and states that Bello, who is a farmworker, cannot afford it. The organization also states that ICE violated Bello’s freedom of speech.

“His arrest and detention violate the first amendment’s prohibition on government retaliation for protected speech and its related prohibition on viewpoint discrimination,” the petition read.

“If left unaddressed, ICE’s actions will chill immigrant speakers from sharing criticisms of the agency at the very same time that its escalating aggression and [the] increasing use of detention are at the centre of public debate.”In a statement to the Bakersfield Californian, ACLU policy advocate Rosa Lopez said that Bello’s poem “spoke out against the administration’s cruel and inhumane immigration policies, and he is being persecuted for it.”Nora Benavidez, the director of US Free Expression Programs of PEN America, a nonprofit that protects freedom of speech in the country and across the world, wrote that the organization is “deeply concerned” over Bello’s recent arrest.

“We are evaluating this case against the backdrop other serious allegations that ICE and other government agencies have deliberately targeted immigration activists and other critics for their speech,” Benavidez said in a statement. “From activist Ravi Ragbir in New York, to journalist Manuel Durán Ortega in Nashville, and members of an advocacy group in Vermont, it appears we’re seeing a targeted attempt to silence those who speak critically of immigration policy.”“ICE’s obligations as a government agency include respect for and adherence to the First Amendment, but actions like these call into question the agency’s commitment to the Constitutional right to free speech,” the statement continued.

The detainment of the activist comes just as reports continue to appear about the unsanitary conditions inside of detention centers at the US-Mexico border. A group of lawyers and US District Judge Dolly M. Gee filed a temporary restraining order against the federal government because of the horrific conditions inside of the facilities holding migrant children in the Texas’ El Paso and Rio Grande Valley sectors, the Los Angeles Times previously reported.

“The conditions within which [children] are held could be compared to torture facilities,” wrote Dr. Dolly Lucio Sevier, a doctor who visited one of the facilities, according to the publication. “That is, extreme cold temperatures, lights on 24 hours a day, no adequate access to medical care, basic sanitation, water, or adequate food.” A few days after the restraining order was set, Judge Gee ordered medical professionals and doctors to ensure that the facilities were sanitary, The New York Times reported. In the filing obtained by CNN, the facilities have until July 12 to ensure the facilities have met the proper requirements.“Children are held for weeks in deplorable conditions, without access to soap, clean water, showers, clean clothing, toilets, toothbrushes, adequate nutrition or adequate sleep. The children, including infants and expectant mothers, are dirty, cold, hungry, and sleep-deprived,” the court filing obtained by CNN reportedly read.

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in the various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.