Atlanta-based rapper 21 Savage, who was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers on Sunday, was left without legal status in the US "through no fault of his own," his lawyer said Monday.
ICE officials detained the 26-year-old rapper — whose real name is She’yaa Bin Abraham-Joseph — alleging that he was a UK citizen who entered the US legally in 2005 on a visa that expired a year later.
The rapper has long been considered a staple of Atlanta's culture among the city's rich history of successful rappers. In a 2016 interview with XXL magazine, Abraham-Joseph said, "I'm from Decatur, Georgia." He performed in Atlanta on Thursday in the Super Bowl Music Fest at State Farm Arena.
The Daily Mail obtained a copy of his birth certificate which showed that he was born on Oct. 22, 1992, at a hospital in the London Borough of Newham in east London, England. A spokesperson for the Newham Register Office confirmed to BuzzFeed News that it was a valid certified copy of his birth certificate.
In a statement provided to BuzzFeed News, Abraham-Joseph's immigration lawyer, Charles Kuck, said that when the rapper came to the US 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."
Abraham-Joseph's attorney also pointed out that the rapper had, five days before his arrest, dropped a new version of his song, "A Lot" in which he condemned immigration officials for separating immigrant families at the border.
The alternate version of the song was played on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon on Jan. 29, where he alluded to the Flint, Michigan, water crisis and separated families at the border.
"Started at the bottom, the trenches, the gutter, so I had to go a lil' harder
Lights was off, the gas was off, so we had to boil up the water,
Been through some things but I couldn't imagine my kids stuck at the border.
Flint still need water
People was innocent, couldn't get lawyers."
"Many have speculated as to possible ulterior motives for his arrest and detention, including that he released music five days prior to his arrest by ICE," Kuck said in a statement. "We are unaware of why ICE apparently targeted Mr. Abraham-Joseph, but we will do everything possible to legally seek his release and pursue his available relief in immigration court."
Kuck said Abraham-Joseph had a pending U visa application, which is intended for "victims of certain crimes who have suffered mental or physical abuse and are helpful to law enforcement or government officials in the investigation or prosecution of criminal activity," according to US Citizenship and Immigration Services.
That visa was connected to a deadly shooting in 2013, on the rapper's 21st birthday, when he was reportedly shot six times. His best friend was killed in the shooting.
Kuck said that the Abraham-Joseph has never hid his immigration status from the US government.
He added that the Department of Homeland Security was aware of Abraham-Joseph's address and history since he filed for the U visa in 2017.
"Yet they took no action against him until this past weekend," Kuck said.
ICE said that they arrested the rapper "during a targeted operation with federal and local law enforcement partners" in the Atlanta metropolitan area.
A spokesperson for the DeKalb County Police Department told BuzzFeed News that Abraham-Joseph was detained by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) during a traffic stop on Sunday. BuzzFeed News has reached out to the ATF for comment.
The rapper has been placed into removal proceedings before a federal immigration judge will determine his fate, ICE told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
He has also been open about selling drugs in the past and being expelled from DeKalb County schools for bringing a gun to his middle school when he was a student.
He was convicted of felony drug charges in 2014 in Fulton County, ICE said.
However, Kuck said that ICE had detained his client "based upon incorrect information about prior criminal charges."
In a follow-up statement, Kuck said his client "has no criminal convictions or charges under state or federal law," and that ICE officials, "provided incorrect information to the press when it claimed he had a criminal conviction."
Kuck's statement said that ICE had not charged Abraham-Joseph with any crime and was refusing to release him on any bond amount.
"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 said.
The lawyer added that ICE could only continue to detain individuals who are a threat to the community or at flight risk.
"Obviously, our client is not a flight risk, as he is widely recognizable, and a prominent member of the music industry," Kuck said. He also added that Abraham-Joseph's "contributions to local communities and schools that he grew up in are examples of the type of immigrant we want in America."
The statement said Abraham-Joseph has children who are US citizens whom he supports.
"We and he will fight for his release, for his family, and his right to remain in our country," Kuck said.
A spokesperson for ICE declined to provide additional comment on Monday.