It’s been four days since 21 Savage was arrested by U.S, Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), who claimed the “Bank Account” MC overstayed an expired visa after moving to America from the United Kingdom at 7-years-old. The rapper, born Shayaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, still remains in the custody of border authorities without bond, where he’s reportedly being held in lockdown for 23 hours a day.
Numerous prominent artists have stepped up to spread awareness as part of the expanding #Free21Savage movement. Jay-Z added his name to that list on Wednesday (Feb. 6). Hov, a staunch supporter of criminal justice reform, used his platform and Roc Nation’s resources in an effort to help expedite the process of freeding 21 from detention.
“The arrest and detention of 21 Savage is an absolute travesty, his U-visa petition has been pending for 4 years,” Jay said in a statement. “In addition to being a successful recording artist, 21 deserves to be reunited with his children immediately, #Free21Savage”
Going beyond words, Jay also enlisted heavyweight attorney Alex Spiro as an addition to 21’s legal team. The Harvard graduate has represented Jay-Z himself, as well as many other high-profile athletes and A-list celebs (Bobby Shmurda, DeMarcus Cousins, Mick Jagger) in the past. Billboard caught up with Spiro to discuss what’s next in the case, the 26-year-old’s legal history, his chances of remaining in America and what fans can do to help.
How did you get involved with 21 Savage’s case?
Roc Nation called me and wanted to bring in some legal help on the matter to fix this. Their philanthropic arm — people from the walks of the NBA and political circles — have all been very concerned about this. These people are in a position to add some legal muscle to the situation and they’re willing to.
What’s the latest you can tell us? Why is he still locked up?
He shouldn’t be [locked up]. This is a travesty. We’re talking about someone who overstayed a visa with an open visa application that’s been pending for years. We’re not talking about a situation where we have a convicted felon, who needs to be detained and deported. We’re talking about a young man, father and entertainer. He has a singular offense for possession of marijuana, which has been vacated. There’s no reason he should be in jail.
Immigration experts previously told us that expunged convictions — even when removed from a person’s record under Georgia state law — are typically still considered convictions for federal immigration purposes.
Correct, and we dispute that determination. Even if he were to have a conviction under immigration law, then doesn’t necessarily follow that he shouldn’t be bonded out or released under certain conditions, so this could be properly investigated.
What are the chances that you believe he ends up staying in the United States?
I fully expect for him to be released. When he is, we will continue the process of making sure his visa is approved. That will end this saga. The lessons that will come from it and what our immigration law should be focused on is the bigger question. My sole focus, at the moment, is to fix this urgent situation because he’s locked up. Then we’re going to look deeper into what happened.
Is this normal protocol as far as the process and it taking this long to get him out?
It’s normal [for it to take this long] when the system doesn’t work, which is way too often. This is another example of shining the light on it. I think there were some misunderstandings at the front-end. I wasn’t there when this took an unfortunate turn.
Do you believe 21 Savage was the target of an operation carried out by ICE, which has been widely reported?
There’s no reason to think he would be the target of anything other than being a casualty of a broken system. We should all be asking questions about what priorities the U.S. government is taking with immigration generally. Cases that gather international attention serve as a good starting point to have the conversation.
Can we put any stock into 21 Savage addressing immigration issues on “A Lot” leading to his arrest?
It’s worth noting that is a reality. I don’t go around throwing conspiracy theories out. This is a travesty of justice. Whether it’s the product of a broken system or something more sinister, time will tell.
So you can confirm that 21 Savage immigrated to the United States when he was 7 years-old, then departed in 2005 to visit the United Kingdom, and returned later that month?
More or less. The bottom line is he doesn’t have any mandatory removable offense. He had a visa application that has been pending for far too long because the system doesn’t work properly. He was operating in good faith and relying on the advice of others. He’s a public figure, this wasn’t someone hiding his face. I think he looks at his lineage as where spent his formidable years.
What’s the next step on your end?
There are conversations occurring and various legal filings that are being put in place. I’m running things in tandem, meaning I’m not going to rely on any one person or action plan. I’m throwing everything at this that I have. Think about a parallel circumstance. Somebody gets arrested — it may be that the police release them, the prosecutor, or the judge can release them. I appeal it to another judge to release them. I’m looking at it like that.
Yes, that’s yet another way. There’s way to accelerate that process. I point to the weaknesses of that process and appeal that process to put some pressure on that process.
What’s the best thing fans can do to help?
Everybody needs to keep supporting him and talking about this. When it’s over and we’ve gotten him out, we can’t forget like it never happened. If everybody started to look at every single person that suffered an injustice and said, ‘What if I knew that person personally?’ I think it would go a long way to solving these issues.
Can you confirm that 21’s being held in solitary confinement for 23 hours out of the day?
No, I can’t confirm that. I can tell you that we have concerns about, not only being incarcerated, but the way he’s been treated while incarcerated.
What are your thoughts on spokespeople for ICE essentially maligning 21 Savage’s persona as a farce?
Sometimes the government rushes to conclusions and puts out statements before they really have all the facts. This is a circumstance where that’s happened and we just want to solve it now. That happens. You have people who make a mistake and get dug in, then there’s people who make a mistake and hit the pause button, and then will get back to you after reflection. We just have to hope the government will do the right thing.
Sign the petition to stop the deportation of 21 Savage here.