The rapper (real name She'yaa Bin Abraham-Joseph) is originally from Dominica, but moved to the United States when he was 7. He was arrested on February 3 by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for being in the country illegally with an expired visa. He missed the Grammy Awards (where he was slated to present) due to his incarceration. His team of lawyers (Charles H. Kuck, Dina LaPolt and Alex Spiro) shared a statement from Savage with TMZ where he tanked his fans and supports for the support. "He will not forget this ordeal or any of the other fathers, sons, family members, and faceless people, he was locked up with or that remain unjustly incarcerated across the country," they said on his behalf. "And he asks for your hearts and minds to be with them."
He was granted an expedited hearing, according to his lawyers, a privilege that New York Times' immigration journalist Caitlin Dickerson points out is a generous exception to the typical timeline for someone detained.
2/Immigration authorities have historically bowed to extreme public pressure in specific cases & that may have played a role here. But especially in Georgia, a typical person in his situation probably would have sat in detention until their court date in 2020-something.— Caitlin Dickerson (@itscaitlinhd) February 12, 2019
This story was originally published February 10.
This year, rapper 21 Savage, along with Post Malone, is nominated for Record of the Year for their song “Rockstar.” The two were scheduled to perform at the Grammys. But Savage is unable to attend because he is currently being detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for being in the country illegally. According to tweets from his manager, his family is also not being given Grammy tickets on his behalf and will also not attend.
The 26-year-old Savage, whose real name is She’yaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, was arrested by ICE officials on February 3. His lawyers confirmed in a statement to Rolling Stone that he was born in the United Kingdom, and his family is of Dominica descent, a country that was granted its independence from the U.K. in 1978. He entered the United States legally at seven years old, and his H-4 visa (for spouses and children of H-1 through H-3 holders, a visa class given to immigrants seeking temporary work in specialty occupations) expired in 2006. His lawyers insist that he lost his legal status as a child through no fault of his own. He is not allowed to be released on bond, despite assurances from his lawyers that he is not a flight risk due to his fame and the presence of most family members in the U.S. Savage is now at risk of deportation, despite having resided in Atlanta for most of his life.
His attorneys also state that Savage “has never hidden his immigration status from the U.S. government,” and that Savage was in the process of applying for a U visa, which protects immigrant victims of violent crimes who are willing to cooperate on criminal investigations with law enforcement.
Savage is reportedly detained at the Irwin County Detention Center, about 188 miles outside of Atlanta. This is notable because Irwin County is listed by immigration activists as one of the worst detention facilities, with allegations that prisoners face arbitrary punitive solitary confinement, inadequate medical care, and sexual abuse.
“Mr. Abraham-Joseph was taken into ICE custody as he is unlawfully present in the U.S. and also a convicted felon,” ICE spokesman Bryan Cox said in a statement. Savage was convicted of felony gun charges in 2014, although his lawyers argue that the conviction should have been expunged from his record.
His arrest came just days after he released the music video for “A Lot,” in which he raps about President Donald Trump’s family separation policy at the border: “Went through some things, but I couldn’t imagine my kids stuck at the border.”
Savage’s detention has drawn support from his local community and immigration activists. Georgia Rep. Hank Johnson wrote a letter to the immigration judge overseeing Savage’s case to vouch for his character. Black Lives Matter has partnered with immigration groups to create a petition calling for Savage’s release.
Members of the music industry have also voiced their support. T.I. wrote on Instagram, “I can’t just sit back and watch unnecessary punishment be cast down to one of OUR TREASURES.” Offset also asked his followers not to joke about Savage’s arrest, writing on Twitter, “All the memes and shit ain’t funny when somebody going through some praying for my dawg ain’t shit funny his fanily [sic] depending on him.”
Under the terms of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, created by President Barack Obama in 2012, certain undocumented immigrants can apply for a work permit and a two-year stay on deportation proceedings. Savage is not eligible for DACA protection under the program’s requirements because he did not obtain a GED after dropping out of high school, and due to his 2014 felony charge. He was also expelled from his county school district when he was in the seventh grade for possessing a gun on school grounds.