21 Savage on ICE arrest: ‘I didn’t know what a visa was. I was 7.’
After spending nine days in ICE custody, rapper 21 Savage told his side of the story Friday on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
The Atlanta musician who was born in England aimed to clear up misinformation about his case following his Feb. 3 arrest by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. He was apprehended because he allegedly overstayed a visa that expired in July 2006.
“I was just driving. And I just seen guns and blue lights. And then I was in the back of a car. And I was gone,” he said on “GMA.” “They didn’t say nothing. They just said, ‘We got Savage.’”
Savage, 26, whose real name is She’yaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, said he arrived in the U.S. when he was 7 years old and attended first grade in Atlanta, so he has limited memories of his native country. He left briefly in 2005 to attend his uncle’s funeral, then returned that same year.
“I didn’t know what a visa was,” he said. “I was 7 when I first came here. I knew I wasn’t born here, but I didn’t know what that meant as far as when I transitioned into an adult, how that was going to affect my life.
“I wasn’t hiding it, but it’s like, I didn’t want to be deported, so I wasn’t going to come out and be like, ‘By the way I wasn’t born here,’ to the world.”
The rapper now considers himself a “Dreamer,” a person who has lived in the U.S. without official authorization since coming to the country as a minor.
“I don’t think the policy is broken,” he said. “I feel like the way that they enforce the policy is broken.”
The rapper has gained high-profile support from the music industry, namely that of rapper Jay-Z, who provided additional legal assistance to 21 Savage, much like he did with embattled rapper Meek Mill.
Savage was supposed to attend the Grammys Sunday, where he was nominated for two awards and was to perform the hit “Rockstar” with Post Malone.
A demonstration was staged near the red carpet to show support for the musician, whose ordeal went largely unacknowledged during the Grammys telecast. (Malone wore a 21 Savage T-shirt during the show and, upon accepting his award for “This Is America,” Swedish composer Ludwig Goransson said the rapper “should be here tonight.”)
“I’ve been here 20 years, 19 years, this is all I know,” Savage said Friday. “I don’t feel like you should be arrested and put in a place where a murderer would be just for being in the country too long.”
Lawyers for 21 Savage said he was targeted because of a lyric critical of immigration in his song “A Lot.”
“We believe, honestly, that he was targeted, of course, like they said,” lawyer Alex Spiro said on “GMA.” “And part of the reason, we think, is both because he’s a celebrity, and they can use this as a way to send a message, and also, perhaps, because of his music.”