Rapper 21 Savage was taken into ICE custody on February 3 of this year, two days after he released a video for his song, “A Lot,” which criticized the Trump administration’s immigration policy. His case has quickly become the most notable deportation case in recent years, shining a light on the many flaws in the United States immigration system.
21 Savage was originally born in the United Kingdom and came to the United States legally on a visa when he was seven years old; he then went to the United Kingdom for a month in 2005 before returning on another visa which expired in 2006. He has been living in the United States as an undocumented immigrant ever since.
In an interview with ABC, 21 Savage stated he had no idea what a visa was when he arrived, nor did he understand what it meant for his life when the visa expired. The rapper, now 26 years old, has lived in the United States for most of his life and, despite not being a citizen, considers the United States to be his home. Many DACA recipients are in a very similar situation.
In 2017, 21 Savage applied for a U Visa (a type of visa available only to those who are victims of crime) making his immigration status known to authorities. Yet it was not until this month that ICE took any action against the rapper. This has caused many to speculate that 21 Savage’s arrest by ICE was targeted and a response to the political commentary he expressed in his music.
The music video of “A Lot” featured an extended version of the song where he criticized immigration policy at the border. This video debuted just two days before his arrest and detention. 21 Savage was in a detention facility for nine days, separated from his children who were born here in the United States. This case has gotten a lot of press and many celebrities, politicians, and organizations are backing 21 Savage.
Jay-Z hired and paid for an immigration lawyer for him, rappers like Killer Mike and Cardi B have stated their support for 21 Savage and disapproval of ICE, Black Lives Matter started a petition to free the rapper, and congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez even tweeted about the matter. Along with bringing awareness to 21 Savage’s situation, influencers are also bringing attention to controversial policies of ICE and onto the institution of ICE as a whole.
Lawyers for 21 Savage released a statement that ICE was intimidating the rapper by keeping him in a detention facility for nine days. Many undocumented immigrants are detained for long periods of time because they do not have enough money to come up with bond nor do they have legal counsel.
The state does not appoint a lawyer to anyone in an immigration detention center because it is considered a civil law matter, not criminal, yet the immigrants are treated as criminals. 21 Savage compared the detention facility to a prison, stating that it was somewhere one would expect a murderer to be held. 21 Savage expressed sympathy for immigrants in similar situations and promised to bring as much attention to this issue as is possible.
The American Civil Liberties Union states, “Many of ICE’s removal tactics take away even the right to a fair hearing in court, as the government rushes to judgment and tries to ram people through a rubber-stamp system that ignores individual circumstances.”
This poses threats to the constitutional rights of due process and equal protection and freedom from racial discrimination. Many immigrants come to this country in the hope of starting a better life for themselves, and they often cannot afford to take on a legal battle against ICE’s practices.
The undocumented immigrants who ICE detains usually pose no threat to our society. In a video released by the website Mic, celebrities like Kendrick Lamar and SZA shared stories of how immigrants have been detained while getting their coffee in the morning, leaving a grocery store, or because “they looked foreign.” The situation with 21 Savage points to a case where his detention is a result of his using his First Amendment right to freedom of speech and was done by ICE in retaliation to criticism of their practices. The strategies that ICE employs to deal with immigrants are cruel and unnecessary and sometimes even unconstitutional.
A primary reason immigrants come to this country illegally is because it can take over ten years for a visa to even be reviewed. ICE is treating these immigrants as if they are violent criminals rather than people who are looking to better their circumstances and live the American dream as productive members of our society doing jobs that many Americans will not.
While the United States needs to have an agency to manage immigration, ICE’s treatment of and way of dealing with illegal immigrants under the current administration is horrible, and recent inhumane acts have damaged the reputation of ICE beyond repair. Therefore, ICE should be abolished and replaced with an agency that can treat immigrants as the hardworking and hopeful people that they are. Immigration has been a key factor in the creation of the country and the current administration needs to stop disguising their racism as immigration policy.