LAST WEEKEND, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents executed a “targeted operation,” arresting 26-year-old Shéyaa Bin Abraham-Joseph—better known as 21 Savage, the Grammy-nominated artist behind such hits as “Bank Account” and “A Lot.” At first, there was confusion: Doesn’t he strongly identify as being from Atlanta? But after a game of public-statement tag, ICE and the rapper’s lawyers explained that 21 was born in the United Kingdom, and his family brought him to the United States when he was 7 years old.
In 2005, when he was 12, he left the United States for a brief time, and then returned on a temporary visa, which expired the following year. Since then, he’s been living in the United States without authorization and trying to legalize his immigration status. According to 21’s lawyers, he has three US-citizen kids, and his mother and four of his siblings are all either US citizens or legal residents.
That ICE would take action to deport someone with significantly deeper ties to the United States than to their birth country shouldn’t surprise anyone. More shocking is the high-profile nature of their target. Isn’t this a public-relations nightmare for the agency? Why would ICE want to bring celebrity attention to the fact that it routinely separates families and upends lives? What’s the play?