21 Savage Says He's 'Not Leaving Atlanta Without a Fight' After ICE Arrest
21 Savage says he’ll fight “all the way to the last day” to stay in his adopted hometown of Atlanta in the wake of his arrest by immigration officials.
The 26-year-old rapper opened up about his battle to stay in the country in a lengthy interview with the New York Times Sunday, and admitted he only became aware that his status as a citizen was not settled when he became a teenager and couldn’t partake in the same milestones as his friends.
“[I found out] probably like the age when you start to get your driver’s license. I couldn’t never take driver’s ed, I couldn’t never go get a job,” he said.
Savage, who was born She’yaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, was arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Feb. 3.
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Officials said the musician was taken into custody because he was an “unlawfully present United Kingdom national” who legally entered the country in 2005, but did not leave one year later as he was supposed to.
Savage remained in ICE custody for 10 days before he was released on $100,000 bond last Wednesday.
In the interview, the rapper said he eventually learned to live with the uncertainty that accompanied his unsettled status because completing the task “felt impossible” — though he knew in the back of his mind it could one day come back to haunt him.
“It’s like my worst nightmare. That’s why it’s always been trying to get corrected,” he said. “Even if you got money, it ain’t easy. It ain’t no favoritism, and I respect it, I honestly respect it. It would be kind of messed up if they treated rich immigrants better than poor immigrants, I think.”
21 Savage said that while in custody, he grappled with the idea of having to leave his house and his favorite restaurant should he have to uproot his life and move across the pond.
“If you tell me, ‘I’ll give you 20 million to go stay somewhere you ain’t never stayed,’ I’d rather be broke. I’ll sit in jail to fight to live where I’ve been living my whole life,” he said.
“I got three kids, my mama, everything that I know is here in Atlanta. I’m not leaving Atlanta without a fight. We gon’ fight all the way till the last day even if that mean I sit in jail for 10 years.”
Still, the star says he had bigger fish to fry.
“I was stressed about getting out. The Grammys is the Grammys, but when you in jail, the Grammys is nothing. I got to watch it. By that time they had put a TV in my room,” he told the Times.
He did, however, appreciate the shoutout he got from Malone in the form of a 21 Savage T-shirt.
“He wore the 21 Savage shirt, so I felt like I was there,” he said. “I don’t care what nobody say — everybody in that building who’s connected to this culture, I was on their mind in some type of way. That’s all that mattered… It was in the air. All the people that was there, they said the words in other places and that matter just as much. All the big artists was vocal about the situation, so I was appreciative.”
Savage also received a shoutout from songwriter Ludwig Göransson, who accepted the song of the year award on behalf of his “This is America” cowriter Donald Glover.
“He should be here tonight,” Göransson said.
21 Savage’s legal team has disputed ICE’s claims that he was convicted on felony drug charges in October 2014, which officials cited as a basis for his arrest.
The rapper “has no criminal convictions or charges under state or federal law and is free to seek relief from removal in immigration court,” the team said in a statement. “ICE provided incorrect information to the press when it claimed he had a criminal conviction.”
The star’s attorneys said in a statement released two days after he was taken into custody that he arrived legally in the United States when he was 7 years old, and that his legal status expired in 2006 “through no fault of his own.”
After he was granted bond, his lawyers Charles H. Kuck, Dina LaPolt and Alex Spiro said in a statement posted to Facebook that the rapper had “won his freedom.”
21 Savage appeared on Good Morning America Friday and said he felt as though he was “definitely targeted” by immigration officials.
“I was just driving. And I just seen guns and blue lights. And then I was in the back of a car. And I was gone,” he said of his arrest. “They just said, ‘We got Savage.’ It was definitely targeted. There was helicopters.”