OPINION: ICE is locking up activists and now rappers

Illustration by Adam Goodman.

Alexia Holloway, Contributing Writer

21 Savage has lived in Atlanta since the start of his career, which is why many fans — myself included — were shocked to learn he was detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement earlier this month.

He moved to Atlanta from the United Kingdom when he was 7 years old and his visa expired as a child, in July 2006. Since then, he has had multiple run-ins with the law, including being  expelled from high school for pulling a gun on another student. Regardless of this, 21 Savage did not seem to be on ICE’s radar until he spoke out about U.S. immigration reform.

Through multiple arrests, it was beyond me as to how 21 Savage slid through the cracks. Perhaps it’s because ICE has made itself a household name since President Donald Trump took office. Although former president Barack Obama cracked down on immigration enforcement, immigration agencies have become increasingly aggressive in their tactics. According to Slate, one of these tactics includes ICE arresting and attempting to deport individuals who are guilty of misdemeanors, such as minor traffic violations. More infamously, ICE is the agency responsible for separating the children of immigrants from their parents and locking the children in custody in cages.

It is suspicious that when 21 Savage starts to donate his money to poor people in Atlanta and uses his platform to speak out against social issues, that he is picked up by a government agency out of nowhere, detained for 23 hours of the day.

21 Savage was released Feb. 13 after processing, following his Feb. 3 detainment. His case is still pending in Atlanta and could take years to resolve the deportation case, according to one of his attorneys. It is important to note his aggravated felony charge has been dropped. This means the status of his pending visa is the only leg his deportation charge can stand on.

ICE has developed a reputation for arresting and detaining visible activists. Jean Montrevil, an immigration activist from New York, was recently deported to Haiti in January after co-founding the New Sanctuary Coalition, an immigrant advocacy group. Montrevil lived in the U.S. for more than three decades and was forced to leave behind his children.

The U.S. has a long and filthy history when it comes to the treatment of black people. During the civil rights era, leaders were under the watchful eye of J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI along with the Counterintelligence Program. Nowadays, we have to worry about mass incarceration and modern-day lynchings in the form of police brutality. Being detained for doubts over their immigration statuses is an issue that black Americans must also consider in today as well.

We can keep our birth certificates and social security cards in a safe place if we ever need to prove our citizenship. But what if an ICE agent randomly chooses a community activist or local musician who is making too much noise and says their paperwork is forged?

The story of the assassination of Black Panther member Fred Hampton seems like an old, distant tale. In similar fashion, Rakem Balogun woke up to armed FBI agents storming his apartment. After being dragged outside in the freezing cold, he was told that he had been under FBI surveillance for a few years as he was being investigated for domestic terrorism. He was later incarcerated for five months. Balogun’s story serves as one of the first to show the government’s efforts to eradicate “black identity extremists.” These “extremists” pose a threat to the government because they advocate against police brutality and the mistreatment of blacks.

21 Savage’s arrest came days after releasing a music video for his song “a lot” where he raps, “Been through some things, but I couldn’t imagine, my kids stuck at the border.” By using his platform to speak out against systems of oppression, he became an ICE target.

In a statement to CNN, ICE attempted to call into question the character of 21 Savage with the following statement: “His whole public persona is false. He actually came to the U.S. from the U.K. as a teen and overstayed his visa.”

There was no mention of any crimes committed by 21 Savage, previously or now. This statement was used to get his fans and community to turn against him. I do not see this happening in the future, because the entire hip-hop community — including major names like Jay-Z, J. Cole and Metro Boomin — has rallied behind him.

Many people are calling into question the validity and credibility of ICE’s work. If this agency can take down a black man, who happens to be a celebrity, it is very possible for this to happen to everyday black people.

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