Opinion | 21 Savage and the dangers of ICE

Maura Kate Mitchelson, Opinions Editor

Two weeks ago, rapper 21 Savage was detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). 21 Savage, born as Sheyaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, is an Atlanta-based rapper who rose to stardom in 2015. His arrest revealed that 21 Savage is not an Atlanta native, but rather, a British citizen. Born in England, the artist moved to the U.S. at the age of 7 and, except for a month-long visit to the United Kingdom in 2005 for his uncle’s funeral, has remained here.

When I first heard the news, I was shocked and confused. I love 21 Savage and had never given a thought to his citizenship status. Just two days before his arrest, he released the music video for his song “a lot,” in which he criticizes ICE’s practice of detaining children at the border. The rapper’s visa expired in 2006, but he wasn’t detained until he called out the government in 2019. How could this timing be a coincidence? In my opinion, it’s beyond suspicious.

I believe that ICE is trying to make an example of 21 Savage. They are trying to send the message that no matter how successful you are, no one is safe from their reach. The arrest of 21 Savage is a scare tactic for the rest of the country. ICE wants to remind the nation that no one is untouchable, not even a Grammy nominated millionaire.

According to Savage’s immigration lawyer, the government has known the rapper’s address and citizenship status since he applied for a U-visa in 2017. In an interview with “Good Morning America” on Feb.15, 21 Savage said that when the ICE officers arrested him, he heard them say: “We got Savage.”

According to CNN, last year ICE had an average of over 42,000 people in custody each day. Many of these people were hardworking individuals who put their lives and safety on the line to come to America in search of a better life, not unlike 21 Savage’s mother, Heather Abraham-Joseph, who came to the U.S. following her divorce from his father. His story of growing up in America but still not being considered an American is the same as countless children and adults detained everyday by ICE.

Like many other people detained by ICE, 21 Savage is an American in every way but the paperwork. He’s a loving father of three with deep roots in the Atlanta community. He recently started a program to promote financial literacy among teens and vowed to set an example by saving money instead of spending it on expensive jewelry.

But unlike most of detainees, 21 Savage has rapper Jay-Z paying for his legal fees and a supportive fanbase behind him.Too many others are ripped from their families and lives that they have built here in the “land of opportunity.”

While 21 Savage was released on $100,000 bail Feb. 12, thousands of other detainees are not able to pay theirs. With the backing of the entire hip-hop community and the financial resources of Jay-Z, 21 Savage spent just nine days in ICE custody, while ICE detains immigrant children who are separated from their parents, for an average, of 100 to 240 days, according to the National Immigrant Justice Center. Many of these children are detained for the same reason as 21 Savage, an overstayed visa.

As a fan, I’m elated to hear that 21 Savage is no longer in custody, but we must never forget that thousands of others remain there. The inhumane treatment of those who came to America for a better life must stop.

21 Savage has matured greatly since his days of of running with gangs and selling drugs. He’s a changed man who puts his resources and time toward helping others. Since being released from custody, the rapper has continued to make amends by turning himself in on Feb. 15 for an outstanding warrant from 2016 concerning a gig at which he didn’t perform, even though he was paid.

If it takes 21 Savage being arrested for you to care about the actions of ICE, then at least you care now.