In first interview since ICE detention, rapper 21 Savage calls immigration policy enforcement ‘broken’
ATLANTA — Rapper 21 Savage says his nearly 10-day detention by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency accentuates what he says are the agency’s flaws.
“I don’t think the policy is broken, I feel like the way they enforce the policy is broken,” the rapper said in an interview with ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
“I’ve been here …19 years, this is all I know,” the 26-year-old rapper said. “I don’t feel like you should be arrested and put in a place where a murderer would be, for just being in the country too long.”
The hip-hop artist, who missed his Grammy Awards performance last week because of his detention, said he was driving on the night of his arrest.
“I just seen guns and blue lights. And then I was in the back of a car and I was gone,” he said, adding “they didn’t say nothing, they just said we got Savage.”
The rapper was released Wednesday from ICE custody after spending more than a week in detention, his attorney said.
21 Savage said his attorneys think ICE targeted him after the release of the music video for his song “A Lot.” It includes this line: “I couldn’t imagine my kids stuck at the border.”
“I don’t really know,” he said. “I could see why people would think that but I really can’t say.”
He said he’s concerned about getting deported, but has “been through so much in my life, I’ve learned to embrace the times when I’m down ’cause they always build me up.”
21 Savage, whose legal name is She’yaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, was arrested by ICE on February 3. Immigration officials said the Grammy-nominated rapper was born in the United Kingdom and was in the United States illegally. His birth certificate says he was born in East London to British parents.
21 Savage to other detained immigrants: “I feel your pain”
His arrest shined a spotlight on the plight of undocumented immigrants, particularly in the Trump era. A slew of stars showed their solidarity with 21 Savage and other undocumented immigrants facing deportation in a video released this week by the website Mic.
21 Savage’s arrest also shocked his fans because he is closely associated with Atlanta and its music scene. He has previously said the “21” in his name refers to a street gang in Decatur, near Atlanta. His songs often refer to his past in East Atlanta’s Zone 6, a police zone.
His attorney Charles Kuck said 21 Savage was brought to the United States at age 7 and left in 2005 before returning a month later. In 2006, his parents failed to renew his visa. 21 Savage has been living in the United States illegally since then, according to immigration officials.
“I didn’t even know what a visa was,” the rapper said during the GMA interview. “I was 7 when I first came here. I knew I wasn’t born here, but I didn’t know what that meant as far as when I transitioned into an adult, how it was going to affect my life.”
The artist was released on bond, but he says he realizes many in detention don’t have that same opportunity.
“I feel your pain,” he said. “(I’m going to) do everything in my power to try and bring awareness to your pain.”
Kuck has said his client has a pending U-visa application with the US Citizenship and Immigration Services and “has relief from removal available to him.” That visa application was filed in 2017, four years after 21 Savage reportedly was shot six times during an incident that left a friend dead.
According to ICE, a U visa is available to those who have been the victims of a crime in the United States, have suffered physical or mental injury as a result of a crime and who are helpful to law enforcement or government officials in an investigation or criminal prosecution.
In October 2014, the rapper was convicted in Fulton County, Georgia, on counts of marijuana possession with intent to distribute, possession of a firearm or knife during the commission of certain felonies and manufacturing, delivery, distribution and/or possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute. The rapper’s representatives said the conviction was expunged.
21 Savage began rapping in 2013 and became part of Atlanta’s underground hip-hop scene. His studio debut, “Issa,” hit No. 2 on the rap charts in 2017.
His latest album, “I Am > I Was” was released in January and spent the first two weeks of 2019 atop the Billboard 200.