Rapper 21 Savage, high-profile ICE detainee, expected to miss Grammys

At the start of 2019, 21 Savage was a 26-year-old rapper firmly ingrained in the Atlanta hip-hop scene and a musician with two Grammy nominations.

On Sunday, he became an inmate in immigration custody with a previously unknown history to his legions of fans made public: He is from the United Kingdom and overstayed his visa in America.

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The rapper, whose real name is Shayaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, came into the country in July 2005, when he was 12, on a visa that expired a year later, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

He is easily one of the most prominent personalities to be held on visa issues amid an escalating debate over immigration enforcement -- including how to treat transplants who entered the country as minors. The rapper is nominated for two Grammys at the Feb. 10 show, including record of the year for "Rockstar" with Post Malone.

Authorities said Abraham-Joseph was arrested Sunday in a "targeted operation" meant to nab rapper Young Nudy, whose real name is Quantavious Thomas, by DeKalb County police and agents with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Abraham-Joseph happened to be with Thomas.

Related: Atlanta rapper Young Nudy arrested with 21 Savage on unrelated charges

Abraham-Joseph is in “removal proceedings before the federal immigration courts” and, thus, was turned over to ICE. ICE said it focuses enforcement efforts on immigrants who have criminal records, as Abraham-Joseph does due to a 2014 felony drug case in Fulton County.

But representatives for the rapper said Tuesday he has no criminal record. The Fulton County District Attorney’s Office said it could not confirm or deny whether he was convicted, citing Georgia’s first offender law, which allows records to be expunged and sealed.

The rapper’s attorneys said he’s been denied bail, and he’s expected to miss the Grammys. The attorney called the arrest unnecessary.

“As a minor, his family overstayed their work visas, and he, like almost two million other children, was left without legal status through no fault of his own,” his lawyers, Charles Kuck and Holly Baird, said in a statement Monday. “This is a civil law violation, and the continued detention of Mr. Abraham-Joseph serves no other purpose than to unnecessarily punish him and try to intimidate him into giving up his right to fight to remain in the United States.”

Rapper 21 Savage may miss the Grammys as he is still in ICE custody. He has two nominations this year.

Credit: Roy Rochlin

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Credit: Roy Rochlin

The lawyers said Abraham-Joseph is awaiting an answer on his visa application, which he filed in 2017 as a crime victim. They didn’t say what crime, but in the past the rapper has spoken of a 2013 shooting that left him shot six times.

Abraham-Joseph has remained in the country even as he had encounters with police, including in 2014 when he was convicted of drug possession in Fulton County. ICE didn’t fault county officials for not turning him over to immigration authorities. Last year, he missed the second stop of his tour with Post Malone because it was in Vancouver, British Columbia.

A 2016 police report said Abraham-Joseph called Atlanta officers himself to report that someone had kicked in the door of his 10th Street condo, taking a Glock handgun, a Rolex and other jewelry, a Louis Vuitton bag and a safe containing $345,000.

Abraham-Joseph’s attorney said Monday he never hid his status from authorities.

In Atlanta, the rapper has routinely given back to his community. For the past three years, the rapper, who has lived around Decatur and Atlanta and went to school in the metro Atlanta area, has held a back-to-school drive, which has benefited thousands of students.