Anyone who has ever dealt with the U.S. immigration system is likely to label the process long, challenging and sometimes discouraging.
And earlier this week, most music and hip-hop fans saw firsthand how this broken system can affect real people.
She’yaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, more widely known as 21 Savage, was detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. According to ICE spokesman Bryan Cox, Abraham-Joseph stayed unlawfully in the U.S. and has a felony conviction. His overstay in America resulted in an arrest in the Atlanta area. He was also put into deportation proceedings.
Charles H. Kuck, Abraham-Joseph’s current immigration lawyer, said the rapper applied for a U.S. for a U visa in 2017, which is a legal way for victims of crime to keep residency in the U.S.
According to Kuck, Abraham-Joseph was born in London and moved to Atlanta, Georgia when he was 7. As the spokesperson for ICE confirmed Abraham-Joseph’s arrest, it became clear he could face potential deportation, a factor that is likely to impact his Feb. 27 performance at the O’Connell Center.
The news of Abraham-Joseph’s real hometown spread swiftly on Twitter. It made the rounds with all the major news outlets and quickly became the latest meme of the new year. Initially, it was clear many of Abraham-Joseph’s fans felt betrayed by the rapper. They assumed just because he had an English birth certificate, he was not truly from Atlanta. I disagree with this notion. Where you were born does not necessarily dictate where you are from. Where you grew up is where you became who you are. Abraham-Joseph spent the majority of his formative years on U.S. soil. Imagine going to elementary, middle and high school all in one country but still not being able to claim it as your home.
The memes about 21 Savage are admittedly funny; however, they begin to distract us from the main issue, which is people being taken away from where they grew up. Abraham-Joseph’s situation feels similar to many Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients. DACA, an Obama-era program, allowed for undocumented immigrants who came in as children to stay in the U.S.
In 2017, President Donald Trump effectively ended the DACA program, no longer allowing for new applications. As the program ended, there was no clear way forward for individuals who once lived under its protective net. This situation has shed some much-needed light on our immigration system. Those who might be unfamiliar with legal protections are getting a crash course in civics, while others who might be in a similar situation as Abraham-Joseph can feel like their issues are being brought to light.
This week, social media has been an enormously effective tool for spreading immigration awareness, but it has also been a forum for hate. Many conservative outlets praised ICE for detaining Abraham-Joseph, making their loyalty to the executive office apparent.
So, when people on Twitter try to be funny by claiming Abraham-Joseph is not really American, they’re unknowingly pushing the broken rhetoric our current presidential administration subscribes to. Those who are in favor of keeping DACA as a part of our immigration system, and protecting children now and in the future, should show their support for those facing the very real possibilities of deportation.
Elijah Rawls is a UF journalism senior. His column appears on Fridays.
FILE - In this Sunday, May 20, 2018, file photo, 21 Savage arrives at the Billboard Music Awards at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. It was a shock for fans when 21 Savage was taken into custody Sunday, Feb. 3, 2019, by U.S. immigration agents in Georgia. It was an even bigger shock to learn he had been an immigrant in the first place. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP, File)