In one of the most surprising recent stories in the ever-churning hip-hop news cycle, Atlanta-based rap star 21 Savage is facing deportation after being arrested Sunday morning by the Atlanta Police Department, then detained by ICE. According to Vice reporter Donovan Farley, Savage was arrested by APD while in a car with fellow artist Young Nudy and others who were “the subject of a local police bust.” 21 Savage, whose real name is Sha Yaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, had his name run through the system and his 2014 felony drug charge popped up. ICE claims he was not born in Atlanta, but Dominica, a British Commonwealth which gained its freedom in 1978. He immigrated from the Caribbean island to the United States in July 2005 at the age of 12 along with his mother. ICE contends that he overstayed his visa, which expired in 2008.
Currently, he’s being detained by ICE in Georgia and is awaiting removal proceedings. Savage’s attorney Dina LaPolt issued the following statement to TMZ yesterday: “We are working diligently to get Mr. Abraham-Joseph out of detention while we work with authorities to clear up any misunderstanding.” LaPolt also commended Savage as a “role model” who “is actively working in the community leading programs to help underprivileged youths in financial literacy.”
Indeed, the “Bank Account” rapper has spent the last year doing community outreach with his “21 Savage Bank Account” campaign and a Mic.com documentary which aimed to teach the youth how to manage their money. Though his music still often chronicles a remarkably grim experience that can exemplify his chosen name of “savage,” his personal growth is evident.
Evolution was a predominant theme of his recently released I Am > I Was album, with lyrics like, “I been through the storm and it turned me to a G / But the other side was sunny, I get paid to rap on beats,” from the confessional “A Lot” featuring J. Cole. It’s ironic that in a recently-performed, alternate version of “A Lot” he rhymes, “been through some things so I can’t imagine my kids stuck at the border.”
With this latest figurative flurry of storm clouds, he’s become the most prominent person who has been ensnared in ICE’s immigration operations, and an unlikely example that there are no bounds to America’s xenophobia. Savage has had the relative privilege of having his growth documented in public, earns a legal living, is an active parent to his three children, and is open about his Ifa spirituality. Despite whatever documentation gaffe occurred in 2005, he’s undoubtedly a productive member of society whose music generates a lot of money for corporations like Sony, the parent company of his Epic Records label. Even without his physical presence, there will be plenty of money made off his music. His formative years have been shaped by both the American dream and nightmare, and there was no reason for ICE to arrest him.
His incarceration further exemplifies that ICE has no legitimate reason to go after most of the people who they’ve detained this decade. President Trump, his conservatives allies and their media mouthpieces trumpet terrorism and the scourge of gang violence from organizations like MS-13 as a reason for their massive deportation agenda, and many of them will likely bring up Savage’s 2014 drug charge to justify his arrest. But those same politicians are negligent about the impoverished communities in their own states that breed domestic gangs. They’re also too scared of losing money from their pro-NRA lobbyists to make gun control a priority and disarm white domestic terrorists. Their hollow talking points don’t hold weight.
Even under former President Obama, who oversaw the deportation of over 5 million undocumented immigrants in his eight years in the oval office, ICE’s relentless detainments register as a concerted effort to remove Black and Brown people from America. There are stories about American-born people of color like Peter Sean Brown who have been detained and held for months until ICE deemed their citzenship valid. ICE told Donovan that they somehow missed 21 Savage’s 2014 arrest in Atlanta, but as ICE raids have persisted and President Trump’s rhetoric has become more flagrantly anti-Immigrant in recent years, every undocumented person is in more danger than ever.