The Strange Case of Rapper 21 Savage Shows the Weakness of the U Visa Petitioning Process

By Dan Cadman on February 6, 2019

The arrest and detention of Atlanta-based rapper 21 Savage (whose real name is Shayaa Bin Abraham-Joseph) by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) made headlines a few days ago. Many people were surprised to find that he was an overstayed Brit whose visa expired a long time ago. He also allegedly has a criminal history as a convicted felon.

His legal team is now screaming loudly that the detention is a "civil law violation" and that he should be released, saying among other things:

ICE can only continue to detain individuals who are threat the community or a flight risk to not show up at their hearings. Obviously, our client is not a flight risk, as he is widely recognizable, and a prominent member of the music industry.

Likewise, Mr. Abraham-Joseph is clearly not a danger to the community, and in fact, his contributions to local communities and schools that he grew up in are examples of the type of immigrant we want in America.

Leaving aside their writing ability, the first assertion isn't true as a legal proposition — something I hope the rapper's lawyers know, whatever they may claim to the press, because if they don't, he needs a new legal team. Some convicted felons are required by law to be detained. The provision specifying mandatory detention can be found at 8 U.S.C. Section 1226(c)(1). Among those specified are alien aggravated felons, defined in law at 8 U.S.C. Section 1101(a)(43), which includes felony drug traffickers. (In fact, aggravated felons may be deported by a process of "expedited removal" permitted by 8 U.S.C. Section 1228.)

As to whether this young man is an "example[] of the type of immigrant we want in America", I'll let you decide.

Despite the acclaim of some critics about the maturity of his most recent musical releases, he has also found himself in the middle of a controversy after making foolish and apparently anti-Semitic remarks about "Jewish money", resulting in a semi-literate Twitter pseudo-apology that, at least in my opinion, smacks of the same ill-informed and insensitive outlook, and is just about as offensive, as the original remarks:

And check out this snippet from a June 2018 GQ interview:

"I used to rob the hell out of everybody," he says. "If you had it, if it was worth something, I'd take it." He has a taste for designer fashion now, but back then he rarely stole clothes. Mostly money and, when he was younger, cars. The fastest whip he ever jacked? "A Camaro SS," he says. He was arrested only once on serious felony charges when a contraband-filled car he was riding in got pulled over. "It wasn't my fault, though, and I done sold every drug, robbed every — I did everything there is to do, except rob a bank. I swear to God on my life I did everything in between. And I ain't never go to jail for that shit."

It wasn't your fault you got arrested?

"It wasn't my fault that we got caught," he says. [Emphases in the original.]

According to Law 360 (partially behind a paywall), his lawyers are also claiming that the arrest was abusive because they have a petition pending to accord legal immigration status to Bin Abraham-Joseph as a victim of crime.

Can you fathom that, especially in the context of his GQ interview? A victim of crime?

But there's a method to this madness. Remember that discussion above about the mandatory detention requirement? There is an exception carved out in the law — pay attention here, because it's directly relevant to the man's case. Section (2) of the detention statute says:

(c)(2) The Attorney General may release an alien described in paragraph (1) only if the Attorney General decides pursuant to section 3521 of title 18 that release of the alien from custody is necessary to provide protection to a witness, a potential witness, a person cooperating with an investigation into major criminal activity.

Filing a U visa petition is one way around being subject to mandatory detention and expedited removal. It is the gum in the machinery of deporting alien felons.

My colleagues Art Arthur and David North, and I have more than once addressed the abuse of the U visa. (See, e.g., here, here, here, and here.)

It makes a joke of the visa to offer protection to people who are "victims" one day, felons the next. And yet it happens. My own view is that as many scoundrels as innocents have found their way into the embracing protection of U visas, thanks often enough to enterprising members of the private immigration bar who always know where to find the weak spots in the law.