Local Politicians, Artists Line Up to Support 21 Savage's Release from ICE Detention

Atlanta-based politicians who have worked with 21 Savage are rallying behind the rapper after he was detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Feb. 3. She’yaa Bin Abraham-Joseph was born in the United Kingdom and came to the United States when he was seven, according to his legal team; ICE officials have said he unlawfully overstayed his visa and is a convicted felon, which his team disputes. Savage is currently being held without bond as he awaits deportation proceedings.

Georgia state Rep. Hank Johnson (D-4), who worked with Savage when the 26-year-old artist held a back-to-school drive in East Atlanta last year, submitted a character letter to ICE, vouching for the rapper’s character and advocating for his release as his immigration case is pending.

“I’m very concerned about the ICE crackdown and what appears to be a targeted operation,” Johnson told Billboard. “Taking the young man down during such a high-profile event as the Super Bowl doesn’t pass the smell test. Claims that She’yaa was hiding or [ICE’s] claims that he was detained because of prior convictions simply aren’t true. She’yaa was never convicted and he was openly seeking to renew his visa. They knew that and still decided to target him. I have a hard time believing that if this was a white singer from Great Britain under the same circumstances that ICE would be going after them with such enthusiasm.”

Savage’s lawyer Charles H. Kuck has denied the rapper has a prior felony conviction, despite ICE’s claims, telling Billboard, “There is no conviction on his record. Period.” Savage was arrested on drug charges in 2014 but, according to Atlanta's ABC affiliate WSB, the charges were subsequently expunged from his record. Still, multiple immigration experts tell Billboard expunged convictions -- even when removed from a person’s record under Georgia state law -- are typically still considered convictions for federal immigration purposes, and 21 Savage could face a lifetime ban as a result. However, the rapper has a pending U visa that, if approved, could be a path to permanent residency.

Georgia state Rep. Erica Thomas (D-39) has also spoken out on the rapper’s behalf. Thomas works with Savage’s co-manager, Kei Henderson, on the newly-formed Georgia Entertainment Caucus. She says she’ll be working with other senators and representatives to present next steps alongside Savage’s team in a forthcoming press conference.

“Mr. Abraham-Joseph shares the story of millions of children brought here under circumstances unbeknownst to them,” Thomas tells Billboard. “He has contributed a lot to Georgia and I hope that he is able to gain citizenship. My team will be working to see if there are any avenues to help support him. This country is getting more and more divided every day when we allow ICE to start choosing who they think should be here over others. The country is a melting pot and that is what makes us great.”

Born in the U.K., Savage arrived in the U.S. under an H-4 visa when he was 7 years old, according to a press release from the rapper’s team. “He remained in the United States until June 2005, when he departed for approximately one month to visit the United Kingdom. He returned to the United States under a valid H-4 visa on July 22, 2005,” the release continues. “Mr. Abraham-Joseph has been continuously physically present in the United States for almost 20 years, except for a brief visit abroad. Unfortunately, in 2006 Mr. Abraham-Joseph lost his legal status through no fault of his own.”

As immigration remains a hot topic throughout the country, organizations such as Black Lives Matter have teamed up with other civil rights organizations, including Undocublack, Color of Change and Define American to create a petition calling for Savage’s release.

"The circumstances of Mr. Abraham-Joseph's detention stand as a testament to the consistent and historically under-reported harassment and targeting of Black immigrants," the petition’s description reads. "The US' violent history of criminalizing Blackness intersects with its deadly legacy of detaining and deporting Black and Brown immigrants. This needs to stop today!"

Atlanta rapper T.I. was among those in the music community to share the petition on social media. “Seen this young kid grow into a king. I watched him build an empire wit very few instructions. I witnessed his growth personally from his first video ever until now. His commitment to change should be acknowledged and supported,” the Instagram post reads. “I can’t just sit back and watch unnecessary punishment be cast down to one of OUR TREASURES. Anyone who been down before know exactly how much this shit ain’t no joking matter. We love ya and repping for ya all ways possible til you raise UP!!”

Activist Michael Render, known to rap fans as Killer Mike, has also posted about the rapper. In a statement released to Billboard, he says, “I would hope an immigrant out of the pan-Africa diaspora would be supported with the same vigor as other undocumented peoples. 21 Savage is a fine young man, and he is an excellent example for young people. I support him and will continue to publicly stand by him.”

At the time of publication, the petition has more than 176,000 signatures.