Eighty-nine days after being arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, 22-year-old Jose Bello was released late Monday afternoon from a detention center when NFL players Demario Davis and Josh Norman helped post his $50,000 bail.
Bello, a college student and farm worker who was detained less than 36 hours after attending a board of supervisors meeting and reading a poem that criticized the nation’s immigration practices, makes around $20,000 a year and was unable to post bail on his own, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which has been advocating on Bello’s behalf.
Davis and Norman are among those fighting to end the cash bail system because it negatively impacts people of limited financial means.
“Josh and I wanted to do something symbolic to show people know there’s something they can do to help,” Davis, a linebacker with the Saints, said by phone late Monday. “With a lot of these cases, people can’t afford to post bail. So you have things like in Mississippi, where  people were rounded up by ICE, and a lot of kids went to school that day and came home and their parents were gone. Everybody knows that’s a messed-up situation, and they wonder what they can do. Well, you can donate to these national organizations that are providing funds to help with bail for these people. That way, at least they have time to be with their families, get a lawyer and get set up, versus being in a situation where nobody is telling them what’s happening with their kids or with their own situation. It’s inhumane to take parents from their children and not tell them what’s going on with their kids. That’s just something that you would not expect to be happening here in America.”
Norman, a cornerback with the Redskins, echoed that sentiment. Like Davis, he has long been an advocate for eliminating the cash bail system, which largely impacts the poor and people of color. The players’ work — and that of the Players Coalition in general — led to a collaborative effort with the National Bail Fund Network.
“They wanted to use their position to really call out the injustice they see and were willing to put money into helping with the bond,” said Pilar Weiss, executive director of the NBFN. “They’ve been very genuine in caring about people and learning about the issue and seeing a real responsibility to elevate this to the larger community. They’ve been doing all this work around criminal justice, around policing, around the inequities in mass incarceration and ending money bail, so it was significant for them to step up to want to do education to want to put up their own personal funds to get somebody free and to see the intersection between the immigration system and the criminal legal system.”
The New York Immigrant Freedom Fund and the National Bail Network Fund also helped to pay Bello’s bail. He was arrested after reading a poem entitled “Dear America,” which stated, in part: “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.”
The ACLU wrote in a petition for writ of habeas corpus filed with the U.S. District Court’s Northern District of California that Bello’s First Amendment rights were violated by his arrest. It argued that his detention was retaliation for speaking out against this administration’s immigration practices, characterized by the petition filed by the ACLU as “a regime of mass detention and deportation.” According to the petition, Bello, who came to the country when he was 3 years old, was first detained by ICE and “put into removal proceedings” in May of 2018, but he was released in August 2018 after community members raised funds for his $10,000 bond. Since then, the petition said, he has spoken out at several anti-ICE advocacy events, including when he recited his poem at the Kern County Board of Supervisors meeting.
Last month, the petition was denied. The judge making the decision cited Bello’s January arrest and conviction for a DUI as providing sufficient legal justification for Bello’s re-arrest by ICE, though the judge also wrote that “the timing of ICE’s decision to re-arrest [Bello] is highly suggestive of retaliatory intent.” The judge denied the request to reduce the bail, leaving Bello to pay the $50,000. Which is where Davis and Norman came in.
“We’re always searching for a place where we can be of service, and this was one of those places,” Norman said by phone Tuesday morning. “Because of the indecency of what’s going on with these people — not just these people, but the immigration issue overall — we felt compelled to get involved. They’re fighting against a force that’s almost immovable, that’s attempting to silence them. So we’re trying to help the ones that do have a voice so they can be heard. It’s crazy that now our First Amendment right is being challenged, and we want to be on the right side of history.”
Added Davis: “The work is just humanity. We see our roles as, if there’s a fire, it’s up to us to put it out. We want to motivate people to show them what they can do. It’s not just about going on social media and saying, ‘Oh, that’s messed up,’ or expressing your opinion. You can do something. It doesn’t have to be much, but if everybody was to donate $5 or $10 or $100, that could be the next person [to] be released back to their family. It doesn’t correct the whole problem, but maybe we can spark the energy for somebody else to see that an injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, as Martin Luther King Jr. said.”
Follow Jim Trotter on Twitter @JimTrotter_NFL.