On February 3rd, a few hours before the Superbowl started, news broke out about the arrest of 21 Savage. Savage, whose legal name is She’yaa Bin AbrahamJoseph, had been arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and slated to be deported. The situation was made even more shocking when an ICE spokesperson told the media, “His whole public persona is false. He actually came to the U.S. from the U.K. as a teen and overstayed his visa.”
Immediately, memes began to dominate social media accusing Savage of being a fake or jokingly insinuating that he was really rapping about being British the whole time. While most of us were sharing jokes, another story was left untold.
To truly understand this story, we’re going to have to rewind to January 28th. 21 Savage performed his song “A Lot” on The Tonight Show in front of millions of people. In this live performance, he added lyrics that weren’t in the original song. With a mournful look, Savage rapped, “Lights was off, the gas was off, so we had to boil up the water / Went through some things, but I couldn’t imagine my kids stuck at the border / Flint still need water, niggas was innocent, couldn’t get lawyers.”
21 Savage’s line about “kids stuck at the border” was a clear reference to the 3,000+ immigrant children who have been separated from their parents at the border under President Trump’s “zero tolerance policy.” While many children were reunited after backlash, an untold amount still remain separated. Children who were reunited exhibited psychological issues which have permanent effects and are typically associated with abandonment and confinement. It can also be considered a reference to the two Guatemalan children who died in Border Patrol custody after being arrested at the border. Jakelin Caal Maquin, 7, died on December 8th. And Felie Gomez Alonzo, 8, died on December 24th.
Both the ACLU and immigration advocates have stressed that ICE seeks out and targets activists that speak against them. “They’re trying to intimidate people,” said Rep. Jerry Nadler, a member of the House Judiciary Committee. “These are well-known activists who’ve been here for decades, and they’re saying to them: Don’t raise your head.” ICE was sued for targeting activists in February by the immigration advocacy group New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City.
This type of intimidation is almost routine. “Migrant Justice,” a non-profit in Burlington, Vermont, had six undocumented leaders arrested over a period of 14 months, none with criminal records. Mere hours after humanitarian group “No More Deaths” released a video showing Border Patrol kicking over and destroying jugs of water that had been left for dehydrated migrants, volunteer Scott Daniel Warren found himself being arrested under the felony charge of harboring undocumented immigrants. When immigrant activist Daniela Vargas spoke out for undocumented rights at a rally in Jackson, Mississippi, she was immediately pulled over on her way home and arrested by ICE because her DACA status had expired, despite the fact that she had already applied for it to be renewed. And, of course, when 21 Savage spoke out against migrant children being on national TV, he found himself being arrested by ICE days later. All these cases are just the tip of the iceberg in a war by ICE to suppress dissenting views.
ICE immediately got to work by trying to defame Savage and turn his fan base against him. Yet many of the facts surrounding his arrest are unclear or simply contradictory. ICE claims that Savage came here when he was 14, but his lawyers say they have proof he came here at 7. ICE claims it has grounds to deport Savage because of a misdemeanor sentence in 2014, yet Hudson, 21 Savage’s lawyer at the time, claims that this sentence was expunged after his sentence was served. Savage had already applied for a visa in 2017, but it’s unclear if that will be considered by immigration officials. It’s important to remember that ICE is hardly infallible. In June, former ICE spokesperson James Schwab told CBS that he was instructed by superiors in Washington to “flat-out lie.”
Regardless of your personal feelings on 21 Savage or immigration, we as Americans should not tolerate a government who selectively enforces laws in order to silence those who speak out against them.