ICE announced on Sunday that they had arrested Atlanta-based rapper 21 Savage, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. ICE spokesperson Bryan Cox described the arrest as the outcome of a “targeted operation” and said that 21 Savage, who was long believed to be an Atlanta native, was in fact “an unlawfully present United Kingdom national” who entered the country in 2005 at the age of 12, on a visa that expired a year later. The rapper, whose real name is Sha Yaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, has been taken into ICE custody and may face deportation.
ICE says that 21 Savage has a 2014 felony drug conviction, although an attorney who worked with the rapper to have his record expunged says the agency has its facts wrong and he has no felony convictions. The more shocking development is that he’s a U.K. national at all: not only has 21 Savage presented himself as an Atlanta local—he performed on Thursday with Lil Yachty and Ludacris at an Atlanta-themed concert—he’s also dedicated himself to charitable work in the local community. Last August, he hosted his third annual “Issa Back 2 School Drive,” which provided students in his old neighborhood with backpacks, school supplies, and even haircuts. Last spring, he went on Ellen to announce that he was sponsoring a financial literacy campaign for children:
21 Savage’s lawyer Dina LaPolt provided the following statement to Variety:
We are working diligently to get Mr. Abraham-Joseph out of detention while we work with authorities to clear up any misunderstanding. Mr. Abraham-Joseph is a role model to the young people in the country — especially in Atlanta, Georgia and is actively working in the community leading programs to help underprivileged youths in financial literacy.
Although there was initial speculation that ICE’s decision to detain one of the biggest names in Atlanta’s black music scene on the day that the Super Bowl was taking place there might not have been entirely coincidental, ICE says that this wasn’t originally their operation. Instead, it was just a case of everyday life-in-a-police-state serendipity: 21 Savage seems to have been in the wrong car at the wrong time and got picked up in a traffic stop.
So, silver-lining: ICE arresting a high-profile young black rapper with facial tattoos on the biggest TV watching day of the year doesn’t seem to have been deliberately intended as a message to Trump’s white supremacist followers from their favorite government agency. Unfortunately, they’ll get the message anyway.