There is one Grammy nominee who will not be walking the red carpet tonight. Two-time nominee rapper 21 Savage was arrested by ICE officials last week and is in custody in Atlanta, waiting for his deportation hearing.
The performer, born She’yaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, came to the US from the UK legally with his parents at the age of 12 in 2005 (his lawyers claim he came earlier, at the age of 7) and they overstayed their visa. This is actually the most common circumstance that undocumented people come to this country. 21 Savage's lawyers say that he has been working to get his status corrected since before his arrest. He is detained in Atlanta, and not subject to being released on bond (unlike Roger Stone).
Per an article in Rolling Stone, we should all be concerned about the facilities in which he is detained.
While he waits, the rapper is being held in Irwin County Detention Center, sources familiar with the situation tell Rolling Stone. Abraham-Joseph’s location was previously reported by The Blast. Irwin, a 1,200-capacity facility located about three hours from Atlanta, has a brutal history — guards are quick to toss detainees into solitary confinement and officials ignore reports of sexual abuse, according to reports from detainees and their attorneys. “It’s a horrendous place and one of the worst immigration detention centers in the U.S.,” says Azadeh Shahshahani, who spent seven years as National Security and Immigrants’ Rights Project Director for the ACLU of Georgia.
21 Savage’s legal team declined to confirm or provide comment on 21 Savage’s location. A representative for ICE, which runs the detention center, declined to confirm Abraham-Joseph’s location, citing agency privacy rules.
Shahshahani has been investigating the treatment of detainees at places like Irwin for over a decade. During her time at the ACLU and then as Legal and Advocacy Director for Project South, an immigrant advocacy group, Shahshahani co-authored several reports on Irwin and its larger sister facility, Stewart Detention Center. Three detainees have died at Stewart in the last two years.
The conditions are so terrible (cockroaches in the food, little to no medical care, harsh forced labor) that the UN has been petitioned, asking officials to visit the facilities and condemn it for "extensive human rights violations."
Sadly, the overall reaction to 21 Savage's arrest was almost taken as a joke, but the public and media alike. The fact that he was British by birth (as a black man) appeared to throw people, shining a light on some of the inherently racist preconceptions held by many.
In the case of 21 Savage, the mocking comments also show a lack of full recognition for how often ICE’s policies target black immigrants and how hurtful they can be. An ICE spokesman has reportedly said that 21 Savage’s “whole public persona is false.” Through such claims, ICE has tried to diminish 21 Savage’s career because of his immigration status and by implying that his experiences as a black man in America, chronicled by much of his music, are invalidated because of his birthplace.
21 Savage has overstayed his visa, but, as his lawyers have pointed out, this was “through no fault of his own.” One of his lawyers has said that ICE has known about his client’s immigration status and his whereabouts since he applied for the visa that would make him legal here, at least a couple of years ago. He also noted that his client “is clearly not a danger to the community, and in fact, his contributions to local communities and schools that he grew up in are examples of the type of immigrant we want in America.”
Some have questioned the timing of ICE’s move, given that the rapper had been convicted of felony drug charges in 2014 (the conviction was reportedly later expunged).
It's just a mess, and there's no reason that any person should be subjected to inhumane conditions.