Josh Norman at Redskins training camp. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Washington Redskins cornerback Josh Norman and New Orleans Saints linebacker Demario Davis helped pay the $50,000 bail for 22-year-old college student and farmworker Jose Bello, who was imprisoned at the Mesa Verde Detention Center in Bakersfield, Calif., for 89 days after reading a poem criticizing Immigration and Customs Enforcement at a public meeting in May.

The New York Immigrant Freedom Fund and the National Bail Fund Network also contributed to paying Bello’s ICE-imposed bail, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, which had filed a federal lawsuit on Bello’s behalf. ICE arrested Bello, a student at Bakersfield College who makes about $20,000 a year, at his home two days after he recited his poem at a meeting of the Kern County Board of Supervisors. He was released Monday.

“Jose Bello was exercising a fundamental right that we pride ourselves on as Americans,” Norman said in a statement shared by the ACLU. “If he was detained for reciting a peaceful poem then we should really ask ourselves, are our words truly free? This is America right? Where the 1st Amendment is freedom of speech unless I missed the memo somewhere. He was exercising that right.”

Norman and Davis are both members of the Players Coalition, an independent task force of 12 members co-founded by former NFL wide receiver Anquan Boldin and Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins in 2017 that is dedicated to improving social justice and racial equality. Earlier this offseason, Norman and Davis delivered a U-Haul truck filled with bottled water to Flint, Mich., and visited an immigrant respite center in McAllen, Tex., to witness the crisis along the U.S.-Mexico border firsthand. Norman made an $18,000 donation to the center afterward.

Bakersfield.com reported that ICE first arrested Bello in May 2018, claiming he was a member of a local street gang, but a federal immigration judge ordered his release last August on $10,000 bond. Bello was arrested again in January for driving under the influence but was not detained. The judge who denied the ACLU’s most recent petition on Bello’s behalf argued that ICE had an “objectively reasonable legal justification” to rearrest him based on his misdemeanor DUI, but she said ICE’s decision to detain him four months later and set his bond at $50,000 was “highly suggestive of retaliatory intent.”

“Unfortunately his story is not unique,” Norman tweeted Tuesday, along with the video of Bello reciting his poem. “ICE is using detention and deportation as weapons to silence immigrant activists and I’ve seen this 1st hand through our work at the border with my brother [Demario Davis]. In those moments I often think to myself, Is this really the America i/WE ALL were birthed into? Where the Golden Standard Rule “IS” Liberty & Justice for all? (Or did I miss that memo somewhere [too]!?)

“So I say To the many others out there that are pinned down by the atrocities of what’s happening right now to you by our very own fellow citizens of this Great Country. Don’t let these rotten apples spoil your hopes & dreams of True Freedom...they clearly do not know what they do & I’m truly deeply sorry for their actions. Just know we are watching, the Whole World is, & the contributions we are making help support your fight for peace and sanctuary; we will continue until that work is done! Psalms 22:24.”

“We’re always searching for a place where we can be of service, and this was one of those places,” Norman told NFL.com. “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.”

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