UPDATE: Since the publishing of this piece, 21 Savage was in fact released from ICE detention on February 13, reports the New York Times.
Atlanta-native 21 Savage was taken into ICE custody on Sunday in the hours before the Superbowl, which took place in his hometown. The detainment has brought renewed national attention to the federal agency’s actions, with one side focusing on the bald fact that 21 Savage “broke the law” and the other side having a more nuanced read on his circumstances, taking a broader view on how deportation laws affect undocumented immigrants and their communities.
The Grammy-nominated rapper’s given name, Sha Yaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, matches that of a British birth certificate that has been circulating online, suggesting only that the rapper was born in London. ICE contends that Savage overstayed a visa in 2005 and has been living in the United States illegally; if deported, he may be banned from re-entering the country for a decade, despite the fact that he has three children and has been living in Atlanta since he was a child.
Savage’s lawyer Charles Kuck seemed to confirm that the rapper did overstay a visa, but made sure to give the situation context. “As a minor, his family overstayed their work visas, and he, like almost 2 million other children, was left without legal status through no fault of his own,” explained Kuck in statement on Tuesday.
Kuck shared that his client is currently being held without bail, on lockdown for 23 hours of the day, though the high-profile rapper is neither a flight risk nor a threat to the community. In fact, Savage has been involved in philanthropic efforts to raise up members of his community. He’s hosted back-to-school initiatives in Atlanta for several years in a row, donated funds to help modernize a local elementary school’s resources, and also been involved in charity work at the national level.
Last year, he partnered with Get Schooled, a financial literacy platform geared toward middle and high school-aged youth, donating $21,000 to the non-profit as part of his 21 Savage Bank Account Campaign. “Now that I do have money in my bank account, I want to help kids with a background similar to mine to get smart about their money,” he explained in an interview with Rolling Stone.
His lawyer made a point to clarify that he currently has a clean criminal record, despite statements from federal agents that suggest he is a criminal. Importantly, the rapper also has a pending U-Visa application following his being victim of a shooting in 2013 which would possibly prevent him from being eligible for deportation. “The Department of Homeland Security has known his address and his history since his filing for the U-Visa in 2017, yet they took no action against him until this past weekend,” said Kuck.
Activists and celebrities have begun a campaign to #Free21, while Georgia Representative Hank Johnson submitted a letter on Tuesday in support of the releasing the rapper on bail. “I believe that it would be a serious hardship to [Savage’s] family and a loss for our community, if he is not allowed bail so that he can be released from detention.”
**UPDATE: Since the publishing of this piece, 21 Savage was in fact released from ICE detention on February 13, reports the New York Times.