(New York, NY) — In a milestone for free speech, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit overruled a district court ruling that previously rejected Jose Bello’s lawsuit, brought by the ACLU of Southern California and ACLU of Northern California. Bello originally sued the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) after he was arrested and jailed by agents just hours after reciting a poem critical of U.S. immigration policy. PEN America filed an amicus brief in support of Bello’s First Amendment case with the help of Alina Das, professor of clinical law at NYU Law and co-director of the NYU Law Immigrant Rights Clinic, Washington Square Legal Services. In its ruling this month, the Ninth Circuit said that the lawsuit was improperly rejected by the district court and may now continue. 

“The victory for Mr. Bello is a victory for anyone who may hope to use their words to propel social change,” said Nora Benavidez, PEN America’s director of US free expression programs. “The Ninth Circuit’s ruling is not just important for Mr. Bello’s case, but helps build welcome precedent in establishing that ICE officials cannot pursue immigration actions as retaliation against someone’s free speech. This decision is one to be celebrated.”

PEN America has previously expressed its concern about the broader issues around the erosion of free speech through ICE’s targeted enforcement actions. Most recently, PEN America joined amicus briefs on behalf of detained Tennessee journalist Manuel Duran Ortega, who was arrested in April 2018 while reporting on a protest, and immigrants’ rights activist Ravi Ragbir, who was detained and targeted for deportation following his criticism of ICE at public rallies and on media outlets.