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The Immigration Process of 21 Savage

Posted on Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Rapper 21 Savage (legal name She’yaa Bin Abraham-Joseph) was arrested by ICE in February of this year and detained. He was subsequently released but is still in deportation proceedings. His ultimate U.S. immigration fate is unclear and will depend partly on his complicated U.S. immigration past: he is present in this country without status, having overstayed an H-4 visa; and he has a criminal record. However, after long involvement with gang life, he survived a gang shooting in Atlanta in 2013 and turned his life around. Now a successful entertainer, he uses the proceeds from his music career to help children in neighborhoods like the one where he grew up.

ICE arrested Mr. Abraham-Joseph because of the overstay, which they can do at any time even if– as in the rapper’s case – it has never been an issue in the individual’s previous legal history. They do not necessarily detain every individual they arrest, but once they do, that person must seek relief from an immigration judge. In 21 Savage’s case, there is speculation ICE targeted and detained the rapper due to the lyrics of his song “a lot,” which referenced family separations at the U.S.-Mexico border. Others speculate that he came to ICE’s attention via USCIS when he applied for a “U” visa – one available to victims of violent crime who can help the police bring the perpetrators to justice. Unfortunately, it is a category the federal government has targeted in its stepped-up immigration enforcement efforts.

Previous to a 2018 policy change introduced by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, someone who had applied for a U visa and was detained, like 21 Savage, could be “administratively released” by a judge pending a decision in the visa case. In the interim, that person could remain in the U.S. Under the new policy, for the person to remain in the U.S., the U-visa case must be “credible” according to tough standards that greatly reduce the judge’s discretion. Absent that finding, the individual must wait outside the U.S. for the outcome of the U visa case, which, even if an approval, often means years of separation from parents, spouses or children.

21 Savage was not in deportation proceedings and had no final order of removal against him when he was arrested and detained. However, any applicant for a U visa who does has only five days to produce evidence of a “credible” case to forestall his or her having to leave the country to await a decision.

Mr. Abraham-Joseph was released from detention because his lawyers were able to secure an “expedited” hearing before an immigration judge, something few receive the benefit of, and the judge agreed to his release on bond. Besides the pending U case, likely also weighing in the rapper’s favor was the low flight risk and lack of danger to the community he posed, and his efforts to rehabilitate his life.

21 Savage has a long way to go before he can become a U.S. Permanent Resident, however. Approval of a U visa and subsequent petition for a green card take years; another option, Cancellation of Removal requires the applicant have no criminal conviction that would make him inadmissible or deportable. Mr. Abraham-Joseph’s record is not clear; some say he has a conviction on his record, and some say he does not. The outcome will depend on whether he does; if so, whether the conviction is a barrier to his admission to the country; and even if so, whether he will be granted a U visa. Likely he has a long wait ahead of him before he finds out.

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