by Cindy Knoebel

Dear America,

Our administration has failed.

They passed laws against our people and still expect to be hailed?


These are the first few lines of "Dear America", a poem written by Jose Bello that he recited on May 13 at a Truth Act forum held by the Kern County board of supervisors.

Jose Bello at the Kern County Truth Forum (credit: YouTube clip)

Thirty-six hours later, 22 year-old Bello was arrested by ICE and locked up at the Mesa Verde Detention Center in Bakersfied, CA.

Unfortuntely, this was not Jose's first time at Mesa Verde. On May 22, 2018, he was apprehended by ICE while picking vegetables with his brother on a farm. He was attending college full-time, but also worked long hours to help support his mother and his son.

In an email Jose sent me back in February, he recounted that day:

After examining my ID and confirming that my name was Jose Bello, the arresting agent suddenly began to act very hostile and aggressive towards my brother and me. In a matter of seconds, he managed to reach for his firearm and pointed it at me about 12 inches from [my] face. This action truly made me fear for my life. I did what any normal person in my situation would’ve done: I put both hands up in the air and begged the officer not to shoot! At this point I noticed that at least 3 or more unmarked vehicles had surrounded my car. The agents who arrived and were present at the scene all simultaneously produced handguns immediately after seeing the first officer deploy his.

The tension escalated even more when the officer began to screaming at me to “put my fucken hands up now”. My hands were obviously already up, so I asked the officer (as calmly as I could in that predicament) what the reason was for using all the excessive force. He answered my question by stating that I had a warrant for my arrest. Once again I tried to calmly explain to the agent that there must have been an error, that I wasn’t aware of any warrants. He continued yelling at me to “shut the fuck up” and when I asked him to produce and show me the actual warrant his response was as clear as fresh water from a stream: he told me that I had a warrant for being an illegal criminal and that he was going to make sure I got deported that same day!

Fortunately, community members were able to raise $10,000 for Jose's bond, and he returned to his family, studies and work.

Then on May 13th Jose decided to attend the Kern County Board of Supervisors' Truth Act forum, which is where he recited his poem. Early on the morning of May 15th, ICE officers appeared at the door of his home in Bakersfield. He has been incarcerated at Mesa Verde since then.

Jose's bond has been set at $50,000.

Jose's situation has garnered media attention and widespread community support. On June 21, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a petition in the San Francisco district court for a writ of habeas corpus. The petition states that Jose's arrest "strongly indicates that ICE acted in retaliation against Mr. Bello for his speech expressing views against the agency’s actions. 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 asks that Jose be released while his case goes through the courts, or that his bail be reduced.

The petition also notes, "The arresting officer mocked [Jose], stating “We’ll see if you can get your friends to raise the bond money again.”" It points out that "Mr. Bello has submitted multiple written requests seeking confidential telephone access for legal calls since his detainment on May 15, to no avail."

A GoFundMe has been established to raise money for Jose's legal expenses.

Our intentions are to continue making America great.

It's time to begin standing up for what's right.

Criminalizing children, separating families.

Our "national security" - does this make it all right? No. It doesn't and it won't.

These are some of the final lines from Jose's poem. No, it's not all right, not at all.