A coalition of leading immigrant rights and civil rights organizations led by the Black Lives Matter Global Network has joined forces to call for the immediate release of rapper 21 Savage from the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The Grammy-nominated rapper She’yaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, also known as 21 Savage, was arrested by ICE in Atlanta on Sunday and placed into deportation proceedings in federal court.
The group, which is named the #Free21Savage Coalition and includes the organizations United We Dream, Color of Change, UndocuBlack Network, Define American and the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, has launched an online #Free21Savage petition calling for ICE to stop the deportation of 21 Savage and demanding his immediate release.
“Black Lives Matter Global Network has been outspoken in the fight to abolish ICE and will continue to stand up for the immigrant community, in particular Black immigrants,” Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Global Network, told Mic in a statement. “We are demanding that ICE end the deportation of She’yaa Bin Abraham Joseph.”
As of this story’s publication, the petition has already collected over 140,000 signatures.
According to ICE, 21 Savage is a citizen of the United Kingdom who has been living in the U.S. illegally. The agency says the rapper entered the country legally in July 2005 as a minor, but subsequently overstayed his visa.
21 Savage’s attorney Charles Kuck dismissed these claims, saying in a public statement, “Mr. Abraham-Joseph has never hid his immigration status from the U.S. government.”
“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,” Kuck continued.
The leaders of the #Free21Savage Coalition said 21 Savage’s arrest was emblematic of a more systemic problem: how ICE treats immigrants and communities of color.
“Black immigrants are harassed and targeted by ICE every day across the country,” said Rashad Robinson, president of Color of Change.
“Every day immigrant communities, especially Black immigrants, are criminalized, detained and deported by ICE and it must stop,” Jonathan Jayes-Green, co-founder and director of UndocuBlack Network, added.
The news of 21 Savage’s arrest came as a surprise. He was widely believed to have been born and raised in Atlanta, a city which he frequently references in his rap lyrics.
Outside of his work as an artist, 21 Savage has also devoted himself to giving back to Atlanta’s underprivileged youth. In August of last year, Mic profiled his efforts to teach financial literacy to local teenagers.
The #Free21Savage Coalition leaders said that track record of activism makes 21 Savage’s arrest all the more unfortunate.
“Just five days before his arrest, [Abraham-Joseph] spoke out about immigrant detention and the Flint water crisis and yet today he’s locked up by deportation agents,” Cristina Jiménez, executive director & co-founder of United We Dream told Mic.
The organizations said they hope 21 Savage’s arrest will draw wider attention to ICE’s treatment of communities of color and spark broader reform.
“The detention of She’yaa Bin Abraham-Joseph highlights the ways in which the criminal sanctions system and immigration enforcement work together to profile and target Black people,” said Nana Gyamfi, executive director of Black Alliance for Just Immigration.
Cullors went further, saying, “We are calling on elected officials including Members of Congress to investigate the excessive force and abuse ICE uses against immigrants and the undocumented and to dismantle the oppressive systems and policies that target us.”
Read more about the petition here.