No Joke, What's Happening to 21 Savage Is Pretty Damn Concerning

21 Savage attends the CFDA / Vogue Fashion Fund 15th Anniversary Event on November 5, 2018 in Brooklyn, New York.
Photo: Roy Rochlin (Getty Images)

It was all jokes... until it wasn’t. In fact, it never really was a joke.

A bit of transparency here: when I first saw news of 21 Savage possibly being from the U.K., I initially saw some commentary that made me chuckle, including Savage the 21st or a likening to the Spice Girls (in response to which, I joined in with a quick “21 Spice”). I didn’t subscribe to any errant questioning of his blackness or “street cred,” since I don’t have any delusion that hood culture is specific to America.

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In the deluge of news, however, I had either ignored or missed the scarlet letters in the room: ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement). Oh, but once I did? Fully knowing the agency’s tendency toward ain’t-shitness, a sudden ominous rumbling overwhelmed my stomach.

Wait... this can’t be good.

More transparency—I would never fancy myself someone who has the necessary range on immigration law to speak conclusively on what’s happening here, but I have done the bare minimum on what we expect from journalists, reporters, writers and readers alike before opening their mouths or prepping their typing fingers: some gotdamn research.

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It all started when 21 Savage got wrapped in a Fulton County drug case in 2014, for which he served 12 months probation. That case is important because, Fulton County jail records show his birthplace as Atlanta, Georgia. Not an unfamiliar concept (even to birthright U.S. citizens who travel and reside in different states throughout their lives), the rapper claimed Atlanta, given the fact he spent his formative years in the southern city.

On Sunday, February 3, ICE arrested the rapper on charges related to overstaying his visa.

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“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested unlawfully present United Kingdom national Abraham-Joseph ‘during a targeted operation with federal and local law enforcement partners early Sunday,’” said ICE Spokesperson Bryan Cox, per WSB-TV. Cox further confirmed the rapper is a convicted felon.

Reveal investigative immigration reporter Aura Bogado did a fantastic and concisely comprehensive summary of what had happened to 21 Savage (as well as essentially providing context on how misinformation even inspired the “jokes”) in a Twitter thread on Sunday.

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As The Hill reports, 21 Savage is currently under ICE custody and if deported, he will be banned from reentering the country for 10 years.

According to an official statement via press release from Charles H. Buck, Esq. (Kuck & Baxter) on behalf of 21 Savage:

ICE detained She’yaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, the well-known Atlanta based recording artist and songwriter also known as “21 Savage”. Based upon incorrect information about prior criminal charges and now refusing to release him on bond of any amount, despite the fact that he has a pending U-Visa application (as the victim of crime) with USCIS, and that he has relief from removal available to him. Mr. Abraham-Joseph has never hid his immigration status from the US government. 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. ICE can only continue to detain individuals who are a threat the community or a flight risk to not show up at their hearings. Obviously, our client is not a flight risk, as he is widely recognizable, and a prominent member of the music industry. Likewise, Mr. Abraham-Joseph is clearly 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.

ICE has not charged Mr. Abraham-Joseph with any crime. As a minor, his family overstayed their work visas, and he, like almost two million other children, was left without legal status through no fault of his own. This is a civil law violation, and the continued detention of Mr. Abraham-Joseph serves no other purpose than to unnecessarily punish him and try to intimidate him into giving up his right to fight to remain in the United States. He rose above the difficult circumstances of his youth to achieve success and make contributions to our society that rival any of those by a natural born citizen. Mr. Abraham-Joseph has US citizen children that he supports and is eligible for relief from deportation. We and he will fight for his release, for his family, and his right to remain in our country. No one would expect less from him.

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Furthermore, Black Lives Matter has launched a #Free21Savage petition in order to stop the young rapper’s deportation process. Civil rights groups such as UndocuBlack, Color of Change, and Define American have joined in on the cause. As the petition states, “There are around 4.2 Million Black immigrants in the U.S. — 619,000 are undocumented.”

At the time of this article’s posting, the petition has over 125,000 signatures, with a goal of 200,000.

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Whew.

A few of my concerns, due to certain findings:

1. 21 Savage has gone on record with anti-border control commentary in his performance. The performance was recent. This shit seems targeted.

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2. This isn’t an isolated issue. Basic human decency aside, let’s say your primary concern isn’t what’s happening to “others” in the country, as you watch little brown kids locked in cages under the assumption that this can’t possibly happen to your black ass. As if that very ideology can’t trickle-down and around to us? What of your parents or grandparents who don’t have documented birth certificates on hand? Who carries around birth certificates? Your state ID and driver’s license are just that—identification. They surely aren’t proof of country citizenship.

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And let us not forget—though it has since faded away, due to settlements from immigration rights groups’ lawsuits—the Arizona law allowing for authorities to randomly ask people for their papers on some Stop & Frisk: Holocaust shit, was just quashed in 2016. The very thought sounds dystopian as fuck, but it was in fact, very present moment.

3. According to a March 2018 NPR report, the 2020 U.S. Census will include a question asking applicants of their “exact origins,” which is, of course, a difficult question to answer for Black Americans who identify as descendants of slaves. The result is a damning Catch-22: answering with found results of your family tree can place a bullseye on you for anti-immigration probes, and inaccurate answers can affect components as significant as the distribution of House of Representatives seats.

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As of January 2019, the federal district judge Jesse Furman has struck down the Trump administration’s plan to add the question, citing that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross crossed authority lines under federal law, USA TODAY reports.

The ruling is expected to advance to the Supreme Court. We shall see.

4. There was a bit of back-and-forth with regards to the 26-year-old rapper’s birthplace. Initially, 21 Savage was reported to have been from the island of Dominica (officially, the Commonwealth of Dominica), an independent territory.

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The Source reportedly obtained a copy of 21 Savage’s birth certificate, which lists his birthplace as Newham, a London borough. As I type this, there are screenshots of his birth certificate all over Twitter. Do we need to get into the egregiousness of that? We joke all the time saying “you the Feds,” but looking at this blowup, I’m like, really nigga?

5. 21 Savage has privilege, sure. He’s rich. He’s famous. But, ICE refuses to let him out on bond. Best believe no amount of money or resources is above a federal government who has a targeted agenda against you because of who you are.

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And much, much more ... that’s just a start.

Sure, you may not have been laughing at his actual arrest and deportation threat. And, I get it. We, as a community, have a propensity to find humor in even the most tragic situations. There’s a reason why Black Twitter hashtags go viral as society snuggles itself into a bigger cluster-fucked blanket. Before now, we could all gleefully find solace in primarily attributing the hilarious “Issa knife” phrasing to the young rapper. But, 21 Savage isn’t a meme, he’s a man. And this situation should be a sobering reminder.

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Correction: 2/5/2019, 10:37 a.m. ET: A previous version of this article misstated that the U.S. Census will include an “exact origin” question in the 2020 application; that proposition was struck down by a federal court, though it may still be in litigation. The article has been corrected to reflect this.

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About the author

Tonja Renée Stidhum

Staff Writer, Entertainment at The Root. Sugar, spice & everything rice. Equipped with the uncanny ability to make a Disney reference and a double entendre in the same sentence.