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What we know about the bizarre immigration case surrounding the rapper 21 Savage

ICE officers have detained him as a British national who overstayed his July 2005 visa. Fans always thought he was from Atlanta.

by Emma Ockerman
Feb 5 2019, 5:00pm

Black Lives Matter and other civil rights groups are rallying in support of rapper 21 Savage as he faces deportation in a case that’s stunned fans who thought he was born in Atlanta.

Police in Atlanta pulled over the rising rapper and some friends in a “targeted operation” Sunday morning and turned him over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and he’s since been detained, according to the Atlanta-Journal Constitution. Now, a few days ahead of the Grammy Awards, where he’s up for the record of the year with fellow rapper Post Malone for the song “Rockstar,” 21 Savage is facing deportation, and has been denied bail.

21 Savage — real name: She’yaa Bin Abraham-Joseph — was arrested by ICE officers who accused him of being a British national who had overstayed his July 2005 visa after he arrived in the U.S. with him family, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Abraham-Joseph has long highlighted his roots in Atlanta and has been a sort of hometown hero.

An ICE spokesman told the Journal-Constitution he’ll go through “removal proceedings before the federal immigration courts.”

Exactly why Abraham-Joseph was picked up by ICE several years after his visa expired, though, is still in question. He was convicted of felony drug charges in 2014, but ICE was reportedly unaware of his immigration status at that time. Abraham-Joseph’s lawyer, Charles Kuck, argues that the rapper never hid his immigration status from the federal government, and even applied for a U visa — a government program for immigrants who claim they suffered crimes in the U.S. and helped out law enforcement — in 2017. Kuck is calling Abraham-Joseph’s arrest a civil rights violation.

According to the Journal-Constitution, the traffic stop that led to Abraham-Joseph’s arrest concerned the rapper Young Nudy, who was accused of aggravated assault with a gun and gang activity. That rapper, whose real name is Quantavious Thomas, is claiming innocence from his charges, his lawyer, W. Scott Smith, told the paper. Two other people in the vehicle were reportedly arrested, too, although their names haven’t been released.

“We believe that Young Nudy is innocent and this is a case of mistaken identity,” Smith said. “Young Nudy's legal team is working closely with law enforcement to ensure this case does not get blown out of proportion.”

Atlanta has been a fundamental part of Abraham-Joseph’s identity as a rapper. He spent the bulk of his childhood in Decatur, a suburb of Atlanta, according to the Journal-Constitution. He’s been public about the fact that he was banned from the county’s school district after bringing a gun to school, although he’s since become a prominent local advocate for gun control since his younger brother died of gun violence.

According to his lawyers, Abraham-Joseph was brought to the U.S. by his parents as a child in 2005, but overstayed his visa. The rapper hasn’t been charged with a crime, according to his lawyers. His 2014 drug conviction was expunged from his record, although immigration officers don’t have to honor that expungement.

A friend of the rapper, Roshonda Craig, told the Journal-Constitution she had never heard of him being from anywhere but Atlanta.

“This is his home,” she told the paper. “He has helped so many people here.”

He has three U.S.-born children.

“Mr. Abraham-Joseph’s not a danger to the community, and in fact, his contributions to local communities and schools that he grew up in are examples of the type of immigrant we want in America,” the law firm representing the rapper, Kuck Baxter Immigration, wrote in a statement on Twitter Tuesday.

An online petition advocating for Abraham-Joseph’s release has garnered nearly 134,000 signatures as of Tuesday morning, and several celebrities are advocating against his deportation. Cardi B and Nicki Minaj both came to his defense after Tomi Lahren, a conservative commentator, appeared to make light of his arrest by tweeting, “I got one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight ICE agents ready to deport ya,” mocking his own lyrics.

“Don’t make me get my leash,” Cardi B responded on Twitter. In a previous Twitter feud, said she’d “dog walk” Lahren. Minaj, meanwhile, wrote to Lahren that “your obsession w/our culture is scary to say the least.” Meek Mill, T.I., and Vince Staples have also tweeted in support of 21 Savage.

Cover: 21 Savage performs at the Voodoo Music Experience in City Park on Sunday, Oct. 28, 2018, in New Orleans. (Photo by Amy Harris/Invision/AP)