The Trump administration’s immigration policies have negatively affected thousands of families in the past few years, even leading to the deaths of innocent children.
Earlier this month, the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency showed us once again how cruel it can be.
On Feb. 3, ICE arrested rapper, producer and activist She’yaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, known by his stage name 21 Savage, during a routine traffic stop.
Turns out, he’s a British immigrant who overstayed his visa, which expired in 2006. Although the aggravated felony charge that was initially supposed to be grounds for his deportation has since been dropped, 21 Savage is still scheduled for a deportation hearing in the near future.
21 Savage’s story is uniquely devastating; it features a popular public figure being torn down at the hands of a historically racist government agency. Regardless of his wealth, talent and notoriety, ICE still sees a Black immigrant as a threat.
We need to stand in solidarity with 21 Savage and his family in the wake of this arrest and possible deportation. But don’t just do it because he’s a popular rapper.
It does not matter that 21 Savage made some of my favorite songs like “Don’t Come Out the House,” a collaboration with Metro Boomin, and “Famous.” It does not matter that he has given school supplies to thousands of Atlanta-area students and advocates for gender equality despite the machismo of hip-hop culture.
We don’t need to embrace the good-immigrant narrative that so frequently accompanies the immigration debate. Instead, stand with 21 Savage because his case shows ICE making an example out of an innocent person, someone whose visa expired when he was only a child and who since then has applied for a new one, USA Today reported.
This is ICE suppressing one of its vocal critics. 21 Savage has not been shy about his disdain for ICE. On Jan. 28, he performed on the “Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon,” including new, unrecorded lyrics critiquing the Trump administration’s treatment of Black and brown citizens.
“Been through some things so I can’t imagine my kids stuck at the border / Flint still need water / People was innocent, couldn’t get lawyers,” he rapped.
He was arrested by ICE less than one week later.
And ICE called the arrest a “targeted operation with federal and local law enforcement,” the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
His lawyers believe ICE deliberately sought 21 Savage out to punish him for speaking out against its abuses of power. After all, ICE released 21 Savage, pending a deportation hearing, three days after the 2019 Grammy Awards, at which he was supposed to perform.
Maha Ouni, a senior political science major at Temple University, is a first-generation immigrant from Tunisia who has closely followed the 21 Savage story. She said it’s emblematic of cruel and racist practices of ICE toward Black and brown immigrants in an era of anti-immigration rhetoric.
“I don’t believe in coincidences when it comes to ICE, and I really do think that they feed off of the energy of people like Jay-Z who have been vocally against the deportation of 21 Savage,” Ouni said. “Once they had him, they did anything that they could to stop him from being any much more of an influencer and using his platform to critique them.”
21 Savage’s possible deportation would coincide with an increasing trend of Black immigrants being deported from the United States under the Trump administration. Despite a decrease in overall deportations from 2016 to 2017, there was a sharp increase in the deportation of African immigrants, Quartz Africa reported.
Timothy Welbeck, an Africology and African American Studies instructor and civil rights attorney, said the detainment of 21 Savage is another example of ICE abusing its power.
“ICE started out as a social service organization, but it quickly grew into law enforcement and interacted with people like a law enforcement agency would,” Welbeck said. “21 Savage was unfortunately an example of this shift, and it’s disappointing that it took his arrest to make people aware of ICE’s wrongdoing.”
“Taking someone from a traffic stop and forcing them into 23-hour lockdown is extreme and inhumane on a lot of levels,” Welbeck added. “They used anything possible to get this man.”
As he approaches the date of his deportation hearing, we need to stand with 21 Savage with media exposure, frequent conversation and public protest. Support him even if you’re not a fan of his music. We owe it to him and other Black immigrants.