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The ACLU of California is now going to bat for a political activist and college student who was arrested and jailed after reading a poem critical of US immigration policy. The poem was not violent and completely respectful, yet 36 hours after he read it, Jose Bello was kidnapped and thrown in a cage where he currently remains as of the writing of this article.

Bello read the poem to the Kern County board of supervisors in May. He wrote it after he was held in detention by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency in 2018. Bello has been in the US since age three and has been a tax paying farm worker for decades and is currently a student at Bakersfield College. He also has a son who is a US citizen as well. Nonetheless, he was rounded up by ICE last year and jailed.

Bello's poem read as follows:

“We demand our respect. We want our dignity back. / Our roots run deep in this country, now that’s a true fact … We don’t want your jobs. We don’t want your money. / We’re here to work hard, pay taxes, and study.”

“I’m here to let you know, we want to feel safe – whether we’re Brown, Asian, or Black,” wrote Bello.

Last August, after spending several months in jail for being born in a different country, community members raised $10,000 to arrange for his release. But after he read the poem, he was rearrested on 15 May and returned to the Mesa Verde detention center.

As the Guardian reports:

The ACLU has filed a petition in the San Francisco district court for a writ of habeas corpus. The petition argues that the arrest violates the first amendment because ICE agents targeted activists who publicly CRITICIZED its immigration enforcement practices. It asks that Bello be released while his case goes through the courts, or that his bail be reduced. His bond is set at $50,000, an amount the ACLU called “hugely unjust”, given Bello’s annual income of $20,000.

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“The close succession of these two events,” says the filing, “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. 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 increasing use of detention are at the centre of public debate.”

According to the Guardian, Rosa Lopez, a policy advocate and organizer at ACLU’s southern California branch, said Bello was “a beloved young activist with many allies and supporters … His poem spoke out against the administration’s cruel and inhumane immigration policies, and he is being persecuted for it. We can’t and won’t allow ICE or other law enforcement agencies to intimidate us to stay silent.”

One of Bello’s teachers, Octavio Barajas, described him as “an outstanding, high-achieving student … whose leaderships skills outside the classroom have motivated many to involve themselves in current issues … He deserves a chance to continue to contribute to our country in his principled and upright ways.”

“We are deeply concerned by these events, which raise the question as to whether Bello was targeted by ICE for his criticism of the agency,” said the director of PEN America US free speech programs, Nora Benavide. “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 Guardian reported that ICE refused to comment on the arrest of Bello “due to privacy laws”.

While no one wants criminals moving into their neighborhoods, much less their country, in reality, most immigrants are just humans seeking a better life. While properly entering the country is an option for some immigrants, for others, who are escaping cartel violence and drug wars -- much of which the US is directly responsible for -- legally entering the country is not an option.

The arguments against an open immigration policy ignore scenarios like these, instead focusing on imaginary scenarios, many of which have been proven to be false. For example, a series of studies have indicated that immigration does not increase crime and that immigrants are actually far less likely to commit violent crimes than native-born citizens. Another study revealed that increased levels of immigration do not increase terrorism. Meanwhile, it has been found that you are at least eight times more likely to be killed by a police officer than a terrorist.

There are also plenty of faulty economic arguments leveled against an open immigration policy, for those who are willing to trade another person's life for a few extra dollars on their balance sheet. However, these claims have been shown to be baseless as well, since various studies have indicated that immigration actually drives economic growth and that that undocumented residents pay billions in taxes.