ICE Arrests Rapper 21 Savage

21 Savage has made a name for himself in the American rap community and has quickly become one of the most popular artists in the country. His album, i am > i was spent two weeks on the Billboard 200. On Sunday, February 23, 2019, twenty-six year old 21 Savage, whose real name is She’yaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, was taken into custody by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). They claim that Abraham-Joseph, a British national, had long overstayed his visa and thus was eligible for deportation. An ICE spokesperson stated that "his whole public persona is false… he actually came to the U.S. from the U.K. as a teen and overstayed his visa." It was believed that Abraham-Joseph was linked to Atlanta, Georgia, and was from the U.S. However, a birth certificate recently emerged stating that Abraham-Joseph was born in Newham, London. His attorney claimed that he has not tried to hide his background and nationality, and that the U.S. government was aware that he had applied for a U-Visa in 2017. A U-Visa is a non-immigrant visa that is set aside for victims of crimes who have suffered substantial mental or physical abuse while in the United States, and for those who are willing to assist law enforcement and government officials in the investigation or prosecution of the criminal activity.

Abraham-Joseph’s fame has sparked conversation about President Trump’s aggressive anti-immigration policies pursued by ICE, especially since there have been allegations of race-baiting and fear-mongering. Jay-Z, Black Lives Matter, and Georgia Congressman, Hank Johnson, have all come forward to support the rapper. ICE has claimed that Abraham-Joseph had a previous conviction, but the rapper’s legal team stated that he did not. ICE claims that Abraham-Joseph came to the U.S. at age fourteen, but his legal team said that he arrived when he was seven.

In 2005, when 21 Savage was twelve, he left the United States for a brief time and returned on a temporary visa, which expired the following year. Since then, he’s been living in the United States without authorization while trying to legalize his immigration status. According to 21’s lawyers, he has three children who are U.S. citizens, and his mother and four of his siblings are all either U.S. citizens or legal residents. There have been uproars about separating him from his three children, removing him from his involvement in the Atlanta community, and the fact that he has been trying to make a life for himself in the U.S.

In 2002–03, during the Bush administration’s post-9/11, the president reorganized the entirety of the government’s citizenship and immigration bureaucracy by transferring everything from the Justice Department to the newly-formed Department of Homeland Security. Rather than a normal part of life, migrants—particularly the thousands of Mexicans who were crossing the border to find work at the time—were now implied to be inherent threats to the safety of native-born U.S. citizens.

ICE was created during this shakeup with this founding mission: To “Keep America Secure,” and to maintain a “100 percent rate of removal for all removable aliens.” However, over the years, as the impracticality of that one-hundred percent goal became apparent, the agency had to taper its messaging to emphasize that the most poor, mostly black and brown immigrants it arrests are “criminal aliens” and “threats to public safety.” Today, ICE prominently displays the percentage of its arrestees and deportees who are “convicted criminals”.

Six days before his arrest, 21 Savage performed a special version of his song, “A Lot,” on The Tonight Show, using the occasion to highlight the inequalities and issues of the Trump administration’s immigration policies: “Been through some things but I can’t imagine my kids stuck at the border / Flint still need water / People was innocent, couldn’t get lawyers.” Republicans have been accused of using Abraham-Johnson’s status as a black rapper with face tattoos and a criminal record of drugs and violence as the ideal target to promote immigration and border security as a major political issue.