ATLANTA — In a new statement released to Channel 2 Action News, attorneys for 21 Savage said the rapper "never hid his immigration status" and applied for a U-Visa two years ago.
Channel 2 investigative reporter Mark Winne learned the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrested the rapper, whose real name is Shayaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, over an expired visa and says he is from the United Kingdom.
Abraham-Joseph, 26, has claimed to be from Atlanta and has long been considered a local act.
"Mr. Abraham-Joseph has never hid his immigration status from the U.S. government. 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," attorney Charles Kuck said in the statement.
Kuck said that his client's application is still pending and that ICE is refusing to release Abraham-Joseph on bond.
"ICE can only continue to detain individuals who are a threat to 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," the attorney said.
Winne was told 21 Savage's arrest was not a Super Bowl-related ICE operation and that he was allegedly in a car with another hip-hop artist and two other men who were arrested by local police on separate charges after the discovery of a gun and drugs.
Winne learned Monday that Young Nudy was the artist arrested. Hudson said Young Nudy and 21 Savage are cousins.
Defense lawyer Jacoby Hudson said 21 Savage was a little-known rapper posting his own content on YouTube when he caught a Fulton County drug case in 2014, not the star who is now generating tens of millions of views on YouTube with slickly produced videos of his hits.
Hudson's role was to get the 2014 case sealed from public view which he did.
“His record been sealed and it’s been expunged,” Hudson said.
Hudson said he's saddened the 2014 case, for which the rapper got 12 months’ probation, now plays a role in the immigration case against 21 Savage.
ICE spokesman Bryan Cox said, “U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested unlawfully present United Kingdom national Abraham-Joseph ‘during a targeted operation with federal and local law enforcement partners early Sunday.’"
Cox's statement also said 21 Savage is a convicted felon.
“He takes care of his community, he gives back, he pays taxes,” Hudson said.
Hudson said it was right for a judge to seal the drug case he got involved with after the performer completed his first offender sentence which means under Georgia law he has no conviction for it.
An official said Fulton County jail records show Atlanta, Georgia as place of birth for the rapper, after his 2014 drug arrest and normally that information would be what the defendant himself told the booking officer.
Immigration law expert Pam Peynado Stewart said the 2014 drug case could still be a problem for 21 Savage in spite of the first offender.
21 Savage's team told Channel 2 Action News supporters have set up a petition to get him out of prison.
Read Kuck's full statement below:
"ICE detained She’yaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, the well-known Atlanta based recording artist and songwriter also known as “21 Savage”. Based upon incorrect information about prior criminal charges and now refusing to release him on bond of any amount, despite the fact that he has a pending U-Visa application (as the victim of crime) with USCIS, and that he has relief from removal available to him. Mr. Abraham-Joseph has never hid his immigration status from the US government. 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. ICE can only continue to detain individuals who are a 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’s 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.
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