Posted: February 05, 2019
By Joshua Sharpe, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
At the start of 2019, 21 Savage was a 26-year-old rapper firmly ingrained in the Atlanta hip-hop scene and a musician with two Grammy nominations.
On Sunday, he became an inmate in immigration custody with a previously unknown history to his legions of fans made public: He is from the United Kingdom and overstayed his visa in America.
The rapper, whose real name is Shayaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, came into the country in July 2005, when he was 12, on a visa that expired a year later, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
He is easily one of the most prominent personalities to be held on visa issues amid an escalating debate over immigration enforcement -- including how to treat transplants who entered the country as minors. The rapper is nominated for two Grammys at the Feb. 10 show, including record of the year for “Rockstar” with Post Malone.
Authorities said Abraham-Joseph was arrested Sunday in a “targeted operation” meant to nab rapper Young Nudy, whose real name is Quantavious Thomas, by DeKalb County police and agents with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Abraham-Joseph happened to be with Thomas.
Abraham-Joseph is in “removal proceedings before the federal immigration courts” and, thus, was turned over to ICE. ICE said it focuses enforcement efforts on immigrants who have criminal records, as Abraham-Joseph does due to a 2014 felony drug case in Fulton County.
But representatives for the rapper said Tuesday he has no criminal record. The Fulton County District Attorney’s Office said it could not confirm or deny whether he was convicted, citing Georgia’s first offender law, which allows records to be expunged and sealed.
The rapper’s attorneys said he’s been denied bail, and he’s expected to miss the Grammys. The attorney called the arrest unnecessary.
“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,” his lawyers, Charles Kuck and Holly Baird, said in a statement Monday. “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.”
The lawyers said Abraham-Joseph is awaiting an answer on his visa application, which he filed in 2017 as a crime victim. They didn’t say what crime, but in the past the rapper has spoken of a 2013 shooting that left him shot six times.
Abraham-Joseph has remained in the country even as he had encounters with police, including in 2014 when he was convicted of drug possession in Fulton County. ICE didn’t fault county officials for not turning him over to immigration authorities. Last year, he missed the second stop of his tour with Post Malone because it was in Vancouver, British Columbia.
A 2016 police report said Abraham-Joseph called Atlanta officers himself to report that someone had kicked in the door of his 10th Street condo, taking a Glock handgun, a Rolex and other jewelry, a Louis Vuitton bag and a safe containing $345,000.
Abraham-Joseph’s attorney said Monday he never hid his status from authorities.
In Atlanta, the rapper has routinely given back to his community. For the past three years, the rapper, who has lived around Decatur and Atlanta and went to school in the metro Atlanta area, has held a back-to-school drive, which has benefited thousands of students.
UPDATE 3:30 p.m. EST Feb. 4: In a new statement released to WSB and other media outlets, attorneys for 21 Savage said the rapper “never hid his immigration status” and applied for a U-Visa two years ago.
“The Department of Homeland Security has known his address and his history since his filing for the U-Visa in 2017, yet they took no action against him until this past weekend,” lawyers Charles Kuck and Holly Baird said in a statement on behalf of their client. “ICE can only continue to detain individuals who are a threat the community or a flight risk to not show up at their hearings.”
“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 statement said. “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.”
The lawyers argue the rapper, whose given name is Shayaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, isn’t a flight risk or a danger to the community.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Bryan D. Cox said the rapper was detained during a “targeted operation” Sunday in DeKalb County. The agency had been working to apprehend him for “weeks or months” because he's been in removal proceedings before the federal immigration courts, according to Cox.
Abraham-Joseph remained in immigration custody Monday; it’s up to a federal judge to decide if he's eligible for bail. His attorneys said he’s been denied bond and he hasn’t been charged with a crime.
“We are working diligently to get Mr. Abraham-Joseph out of detention while we work with the authorities to clear up any misunderstandings,” Dina LaPolt, the rapper’s lawyer, told The Post in a statement. “Mr. Abraham-Joseph is a role model to the young people in this country, especially in Atlanta, Georgia, and is actively working in the community — leading programs to help underprivileged youths in financial literacy.”
His via application is filed under code that allows crime victims to seek legal status. The lawyers didn’t say what crime he was a victim of, but the rapper has long said he was shot six times in 2013.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested rapper 21 Savage early Sunday morning, claiming that he is actually from the United Kingdom and overstayed his visa, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has learned.
21 Savage, whose real name is Sha Yaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, was taken into custody in a “targeted operation,” ICE spokesman Brian Cox said.
Abraham-Joseph, 26, has said he’s from Atlanta and has long been considered a local act. In August, he gave free school supplies to more than 2,500 DeKalb County school students.
Cox issued the following statement detailing the reason for Abraham-Joseph’s arrest:“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. “Mr. Abraham-Joseph initially entered the U.S. legally in July 2005, but subsequently failed to depart under the terms of his nonimmigrant visa and he became unlawfully present in the U.S. when his visa expired in July 2006. In addition to being in violation of federal immigration law, Mr. Abraham-Joseph was convicted on felony drug charges in October 2014 in Fulton County, Georgia. “Mr. Abraham-Joseph is presently in ICE custody in Georgia and has been placed into removal proceedings before the federal immigration courts. ICE will now await the outcome of his case before a federal immigration judge to determine future actions.”
A representative for the rapper has not commented on the arrest.
Atlanta rapper Young Nudy was arrested early Sunday morning in metro Atlanta, according to jail records.
Young Nudy, whose real name is Quantavious Thomas, was booked into the DeKalb County jail on aggravated assault and gang charges about 4 a.m.
Thomas was arrested with rapper 21 Savage on unrelated charges out of DeKalb County, according to a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement official and several news organizations.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution first reported that 21 Savage, whose real name is Sha Yaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, was taken into custody by ICE early Sunday morning. According to an unnamed source, both rappers were arrested following a traffic stop during which two additional people were taken into custody by DeKalb police.
Abraham-Joseph was held on allegations that he is actually from the United Kingdom and has been living in the U.S. illegally since 2006.
DeKalb police have not released the details of Thomas’ arrest or the names of the two other suspects. Bond has not been set for Thomas, DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Cynthia Williams told the AJC.
Thomas has collaborated heavily with Abraham-Joseph. The duo are reportedly cousins.
But DJ BJ, who Complex reported has worked closely with both rappers, is disputing reports that they were in the same car and arrested together.
“Savage and Nudy won’t (sic) even in the same car. Don't let media lie to y'all,” he tweeted.
BJ also refuted a report that the Atlanta Police Department was behind the initial arrest of the two.
According to a post on Thomas’ Instagram page, he was part of a concert near Pine Lake, Georgia, the night of his arrest. He is known for his “Slimeball” mixtapes and his collaborations with fellow Georgia rappers like Offset and Lil Yachty.
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