Cox, however, said Abraham-Joseph is an “unlawfully present United Kingdom national” who came to the U.S. on a visa in July 2005. His visa expired a year later, Cox said.
Abraham-Joseph has been placed in “removal proceedings before the federal immigration courts,” Cox said.
ICE says it focuses enforcement efforts on immigrants who have criminal records, as Abraham-Joseph does due to a 2014 felony drug case in Fulton County. Representatives for the rapper said Tuesday he has no criminal record. Citing Georgia’s first offender law, which allows records to be expunged and records sealed, the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office said it could not confirm or deny whether he was convicted.
THE GRAMMYS: 21 Savage nominated for 2, probably won't be there
RELATED: Social media reacts with shock, humor after reports of 21 Savage's British roots, ICE arrest
An ICE official told AJC.com that when Abraham-Joseph was arrested in 2014, ICE was not aware of his immigration status. They only learned later that he is from the U.K.
Atlanta-based immigration attorney Charles Kuck, who is representing Abraham-Joseph, acknowledged in a statement Monday that the rapper is in fact not from the U.S., but said he never hid that from the government. Kuck said Abraham-Joseph’s family overstayed their work visas when he was a minor.
READ MORE: 21 Savage overstayed visa 'through no fault of his own,' attorneys says
In 2017, he applied for a U visa, which is for victims who suffered crimes while in the U.S. and are helpful to law enforcement, the rapper's lawyer said.
Abraham-Joseph, who spent much of his childhood in Decatur, has said publicly he was banned from the DeKalb County School District after he brought a gun to school, intending to use it on another student. Since then, after losing his younger brother and best friend to gun violence, he has become an advocate for gun control, the AJC previously reported.
In the spring of 2018, Abraham-Joseph was credited with launching the “paintballs up, guns down” social media campaign, which was intended to curb gun violence. Authorities said the campaign backfired, leading to a rash of paintball wars and, in some cases, deadly shootings.
MORE: 'Paintball wars' started by local rapper a problem for Atlanta police
Around the same time the rapper began promoting paintball guns on social media, 3-year-old T'Rhigi Diggs was killed in a shooting in southeast Atlanta when a teenager retaliated with a real gun after being assaulted with paintballs. Abraham-Joseph stepped up to pay for the toddler's funeral.
ALSO: Rapper 21 Savage pays for funeral of 3-year-old DeKalb shooting victim
Then, when gunfire broke out at a community event he was headlining in southeast Atlanta last fall, Abraham-Joseph spoke out again. He encouraged positivity and urged the people involved to set a better example for kids.
The ICE official said Abraham-Joseph’s Sunday morning arrest stemmed from a traffic stop in DeKalb County, during which three other people were arrested by DeKalb police.
RELATED: Rapper Young Nudy was arrested with 21 Savage on unrelated charges
The AJC has reached out to DeKalb police for information on that incident.
Abraham-Joseph performed in Atlanta as recently as Thursday in the Super Bowl Music Fest at State Farm Arena.
Sunday’s arrest was not a Super Bowl-related ICE operation, a federal law enforcement official said.
Abraham-Joseph jumped into the rap game with his debut mixtape "The Slaughter Tape" in 2015. His most recent album, "I Am > I Was," hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200 album chart. He is nominated for two Grammy Awards this year, one for record of the year and another for best rap/sung performance.
— Staff writers Jeremy Redmon and Chelsea Prince contributed to this article.