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February 4, 2019

In a twist worthy of this current era, with its cavalier relationship to reality and logic, the news that the rapper 21 Savage was born in England was still a shock to the system. First came the questions, followed closely by a flood of memes that eclipsed what is clearly an ICE campaign to make an example of a rapper who rapped “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,” on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon just days before he was taken into ICE custody, according to XXL.

Sha Yaa Bin Abraham-Joseph a.k.a. ‘21 Savage’ somehow managed to attract the attention of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE, or Trump’s Gestapo for short) who apprehended the rapper, according to a statement released by ICE spokesperson Bryan Cox:

“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrested unlawfully present United Kingdom national Sha Yaa Bin Abraham-Joseph AKA ‘21 Savage’ during a targeted operation with federal and local law enforcement partners early Sunday in metro Atlanta. Mr. Abraham-Joseph was taken into ICE custody as he is unlawfully present in the U.S. and also a convicted felon.”

According to the rapper’s lawyer, Jacoby Hudson, “He’s not a convicted felon, so they reported that wrong, from their 2014 arrest.” Hudson knows this because he worked to get that arrest wiped from Abraham-Joseph’s record. “That arrest should be expunged. He has no felony convictions,” added Jacoby. So, there’s one lie debunked. We cannot afford to ignore ICE’s willingness to do pretty much anything to enact the tyranny mandated by the Trump administration. Last year, The Grio reported on Peter Sean Brown, a Black man from Philadelphia who is suing ICE for trying to “deport” him to Jamaica, even though his birthplace is listed as Philadelphia on official records.

“Targeted operation” is very much on the money for ICE, but the revelation is still a wild one, bolstered by The Daily Mail, which published what appears to be a birth certificate that states ‘ShéYaa Bin Abraham’ was born in the London suburb of Newham in 1992. The agency claims that the rapper entered the United States legally in 2005 but never left after his visa expired. Atlanta immigration attorney Charles Huck has defended his client by emphasizing that the rapper never lied about his British origins and even wrote: “As a minor, his family overstayed their work visas, and he, like almost two million other children, was left without legal status through no fault of his own.”

The rapper’s current attorney Dina LaPolt told TMZ, “We are working diligently to get Mr. Abraham-Joseph out of detention while we work with authorities to clear up any misunderstanding. Mr. Abraham-Joseph is a role model to the young people in the country — especially in Atlanta, Georgia and is actively working in the community leading programs to help underprivileged youths in financial literacy.”

ICE could have arrested 21 in 2014 when the criminal case was underway. They could have arrested him in 2006 when his visa expired. Hell, the way they’re itching to deport Americans, they could have even arrested him last year when he applied for his U-visa. They had all the time in the world to arrest him but they chose to do it a week after the rapper added the lyric about the heinous treatment of immigrants at the border. The financial literacy program mentioned by LaPolt is just one of the many that the rapper has used to give back to his transplant home of Atlanta, whose Eastside served as the inspiration for his rap persona.

Every new development in this story is as confusing as the last and the memes were just as fast as furious. The collective “I’m sorry, what?” that took place on Twitter was accompanied by meme-age that displayed the new-age manner of digesting information that often makes no sense. The response from the culture is justified in its incredulity and awe, but there is a mountain of evidence showing ICE using people (and children) as examples in order to deter immigration into the United States. How is it possible that the rapper could tour internationally, leaving and entering the U.S. multiple times before being taken into custody? The timing stinks. The execution stinks. This story stinks.

The memes are funny but this situation isn’t. What is fast becoming a social media moment for a year-end listicle, is also a tyrannical government organization using the power of rap and its association with Black Twitter to minimize a “targeted operation,” in order to create a white supremacist ethno-state through the deportation of Black and Brown people. The bandwagon of people that are fine seeing 21 Savage return to England when he is eligible to stay in the United States grows, despite the fact that the UK government is looking to deport children of the Windrush generation back to the Carribean. Laughs aside, Black Americans can’t afford to think this doesn’t affect them. If anything, this is a precursor for dark times ahead.

Free 21 Savage. He won’t be the last.

Black Lives Matter started a petition against 21 Savage’s deportation. Read and sign it here.