U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents took Sha Yaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, better known as rapper 21 Savage, into custody early Sunday in Atlanta after a “targeted operation with federal and local law enforcement partners.”
Though he is often touted as a local Atlanta rapper, ICE officials say he is actually “a United Kingdom national” and has overstayed his visa.
“Mr. Abraham-Joseph initially entered the U.S. legally in July 2005, but subsequently failed to depart under the terms of his nonimmigrant visa and he became unlawfully present in the U.S. when his visa expired in July 2006,” ICE spokesman Bryan Cox told The Washington Post in a statement.
“In addition to being in violation of federal immigration law, Mr. Abraham-Joseph was convicted on felony drug charges in October 2014 in Fulton County, Georgia,” the statement added.
The rapper has been placed in “removal proceedings before the federal immigration courts,” Cox said. “ICE will now await the outcome of his case before a federal immigration judge to determine future actions.”
One of the rapper’s lawyers, Charles H. Kuck, responded with a lengthy statement Monday night. Kuck did not confirm where the rapper is originally from but did state that he immigrated to the United States.
“As a minor, his family overstayed their work visas, and he, like almost two million other children, was left without legal status through no fault of his own,” the statement read. “This is a civil law violation, and the continued detention of Mr. Abraham-Joseph serves no other purpose than to unnecessarily punish him and try to intimidate him into giving up his right to fight to remain in the United States.”
“Mr. Abraham-Joseph has never hid his immigration status from the US government. The Department of Homeland Security has known his address and his history since his filing for the U Visa in 2017, yet they took no action against him until this past weekend,” Kuck added. “ICE can only continue to detain individuals who are a threat [to] the community or a flight risk to not show up at their hearings. . . . Mr. Abraham-Joseph is clearly not a danger to the community, and in fact, his contributions to local communities and schools that he grew up in are examples of the type of immigrant we want in America."
It was particularly strange that the arrest occurred hours before the Super Bowl, which is being hosted in Atlanta, and only days after the rapper performed there at the Bud Light Super Bowl Music Fest.
21 Savage is best known for his single “Bank Account” as well as being featured on hit songs such as Post Malone’s “Rockstar,” Cardi B’s “Bartier Cardi” and Drake’s “Sneakin'." His latest album, “I Am > I Was,” hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart in January. He is often praised as “one of Atlanta’s most promising rappers.”
The charges came as a surprise to many fans, who long thought the rapper was from Georgia. He often spoke about a childhood spent bouncing around “beat-up . . . apartments” in Atlanta. At the time of his arrest, the Wikipedia page for the rapper claimed he was born in Atlanta in 1992, where he “was raised by his mother, Heather, who is of Dominican origin and his four brothers and six sisters, though one is now deceased due to a shooting after a drug deal gone haywire.”
Various profiles point to the rapper being “expelled from all DeKalb County schools for getting caught with a gun in the 7th grade.” He told Fader in 2016, “I probably broke the record for the youngest [person] to bring a gun to that school.”
He also often spoke about “giving back” to the Atlanta community. In August, he hosted his third annual “Issa Back 2 School Drive” to benefit students from DeKalb County Schools, which helps outfit children with uniforms and school supplies.
“I might rap about a lot of stuff, but that’s just a reflection of what I’ve been through,” he said at the event. “In real life, everything I do, I want to bring everybody together. I want to give back to the community, help the kids, get them uniforms, books, book bags, everything they need … just do better. That’s where it starts, the kids.”
ICE, though, says he was born in the United Kingdom and entered the country in the summer of 2005.
“His whole public persona is false. He actually came to the U.S. from the U.K. as a teen and overstayed his visa,” an ICE spokesperson reportedly told CNN correspondent Nick Valencia.