Rapper 21 Savage (born Shéyaa Bin Abraham-Joseph) is nominated for two Grammys. The awards ceremony is Sunday night, but he won’t be there. He’ll be in the custody of the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency, where he has been detained since his arrest a week ago.
Though known as an Atlanta artist, 21 Savage is a British national who, according to one of his immigration attorneys, Charles Kuck, came to the United States at age seven with his parents. He has remained in the country continuously ever since, save for a one-month stretch in 2005, after which he re-entered the U.S. on an H-4 visa. That visa expired in 2006.
In an interview Saturday with MSNBC’s Joy Reid, Kuck provided more insight into the shadowy, complicated situation surrounding 21 Savage’s arrest and possible deportation.
Referring to his client as Shéyaa, Kuck told Reid that the police had no warrant to stop 21 Savage when they stopped him outside a gas station in DeKalb county in Georgia. The police did have a warrant, Kuck said, for a man driving a car about a quarter-mile ahead of 21 Savage, but he was still stopped by an ATF agent.
“The first thing [the ATF agent] said was, ‘We got your man,’” Kuck said. “I.C.E. was there and said, ‘Great, let’s go,’ and took him directly. Shéyaa was never in the custody of anyone other than I.C.E.”
Kuck also said that a series of statements made by the I.C.E. agents to 21 Savage “allows us to believe that they had been looking for him, or looking at him, since last August.”
According to Kuck, I.C.E. was acting on inaccurate information. “They thought [21 Savage] had a conviction for what they termed to be an aggravated felony, and he does not. That conviction was vacated late last year. They clearly had not done their homework beforehand.”
Also evident, as far as Kuck can see, is that I.C.E. did not anticipate the public blowback for 21 Savage’s arrest. “It’s clear they didn’t understand what they were starting when they arrested 21 Savage and what that really is going to mean to the immigrant and to the black communities.”
“The only reason I.C.E. Can detain somebody is if they’re a flight risk, which he’s clearly not, or if he’s a danger to the community, which he’s clearly not. But I.C.E., at its highest levels yesterday at 5:00 decided — and I’m talking about headquarters I.C.E. — they were not going to release him.”
Kuck said this declaration that 21 Savage would not be released was consistent with what he’d been told on Monday by I.C.E. — that this decision to detain 21 Savage was made back in August.
Reid and Kuck also discussed the disproportionate rate at which black immigrants are arrested by I.C.E. Though black immigrants make up 5.4 percent of the U.S. unauthorized migrant population, they account for 10.6 percent of all removal proceedings between 2003 and 2015.
“Clearly he didn’t want to become a face of this issue,” Reid said. “But he kind of has.”
Kuck agreed. “It’s shocking the disparity among black immigrants at their higher rates of incarceration and deportation. It’s simply not justified. But it shows you the inherent race that’s in the system that most people thought was Latino issue, but simply broader than that.”
21 Savage’s next stop is immigration court. “He is fighting strong and he is simply not going to let I.C.E. destroy his life,” Kuck said. “We remain convinced not only will we get him out but we will secure his permanent residence in the United States.”