On Sunday, February 3, 2019, while watching the Super Bowl, I got the notification like everyone else that “21 Savage”, aka Sheyaa Bin Abraham-Joseph had been detained by ICE. As an immigration attorney, my mind started racing as to what happened? Why? what WILL happen? How will this case effect our society’s views on immigration issues? Instantly I was receiving text messages from my friends asking me questions, not understanding what was happening. I’ve become used to being the go to amongst my friends and family regarding immigration debates, answering all questions they have about what is true or not, how certain things work, etc. However, now it was different, because it’s affecting someone famous. The next morning, I was listening to the radio and even the DJs were commenting on “21 Savage’s” detainment.
I’m not sure how different it really is. I’ve heard this story a million times at this point. It doesn’t matter whether you’re rich or poor, famous or unknown. ICE will arrest you if you are unlawfully present in the United States.
According to the limited news I have found, “21 Savage” came over to the United States in 2005 at thirteen years old from the United Kingdom. He settled in Atlanta and allegedly overstayed his visa, which expired after a year (which does not sound accurate). He has been living the undocumented life all this time. In 2015, he was convicted of felony drug charges in Fulton County, Georgia.
On Sunday, February 3, 2019, “21” was riding in a car with his cousin, “Young Nudy,” who was under investigation for assault and criminal gang activity. When law enforcement stopped the car, they identified “21 Savage,” searched his name, found he had a criminal record, called ICE who claimed he was in the United States unlawfully, and subsequently detained him.
Being an immigration attorney, I saw things that many people wouldn’t know to look for. I also think this is a great time to clear up some rumors about how all of this works.
1. “21 Savage” may or may not have overstayed a visa. Citizens of the UK have notably been granted access to the United States under what is referred to as the Visa Waiver Program. The Visa Waiver Program enables most citizens or nationals of participating countries, such as the UK, to travel to the United States for tourism or business for stays of 90 days or less without obtaining a visa. Here’s the catch: You can only stay for 90 days before you have to leave. If you overstay, once you leave the U.S., you are banned from re-entering for 10 years. Here’s another catch: if you get caught by ICE, you’re NOT entitled to a day in court, unless you claim you are afraid to return to your country for fear of persecution based on a number of categories, such as a political opinion, sexual orientation, religion, nationality or race. This is known as Asylum. Realistically, no one is succeeding on an asylum application from the UK.
It’s quite possible “21 Savage” and his family came here on a visa. I’m not sure which visa that would be since it expired after a year it may have been an employment-based visa. Common B1/B2 visitor’s visas are valid for 10 years, allowing a recipient to remain in the U.S. for a maximum of 6 months at a time. All the news sources say he overstayed his visa that expired after a year. Remember, he was thirteen at the time, so he most likely came here on the same category of visa his mother came on. We won’t know the answer until more information is released, which may not happen if proceedings are kept confidential.
2. “21 Savage” is not completely innocent. He has a criminal history, and not just any criminal history, but “a felony drug conviction” according to reports. Now, I am not sure what that actually means… Was he convicted of drug distribution charges? Or drug possession? Which drug? Was it less than 30 grams of marijuana? Each state has its own laws and labels them differently. However, all of this matters for immigration purposes. Why? Because if he DID come over on a visa, “21 Savage” may be eligible for what is called Cancellation of Removal for non-permanent residents if he can show that he has been present in the United States for 10 continuous years, that he has been a person of good moral character, and that he has qualifying relatives that are either US citizens or Lawful permanent residents that would suffer extreme hardship if he were deported. If successful on such a claim, he would receive Lawful permanent residence (aka a green card) and be able to remain in the U.S.
BUT, all this flies out the window if he’s been convicted of a drug charge that makes him removable from the United States. What the conviction is for really matters. This is where being an immigration attorney that specializes in Criminal Immigration Law (or “crimmigration”) really pays off. Hopefully, “21 Savage” was represented by an attorney that was aware of his immigration status (or lack thereof) and found him an immigration safe plea that would not interfere with a possible claim for cancellation of removal. I don’t know the answer to that. What I do know is the felony drug conviction makes a huge difference.
3. For some reason, everyone thought “21 Savage” was from Atlanta. Even his Wikipedia page at one point claimed he was born in Atlanta in 1992. We can’t always trust Wikipedia; however, it makes me wonder, was he claiming to be a United States Citizen? I hope not because that will bar you from any kind of relief from deportation. The last thing a non-US citizen should ever do is pretend to be a US citizen, ever. Don’t tell people you are a citizen, don’t check off a box on any form that you’re a citizen, and please, DO NOT vote.
4. Right now, “21 Savage” is in immigration detention, which is just a fancy way of saying jail. If he DID come over with a visa and NOT on the visa waiver program, he will be afforded his day in court. That will come in a few weeks. He may be given an opportunity to be released on bond, if his criminal drug conviction does not preclude it (another reason to find out what he was convicted of). If he IS allowed a bond hearing, the immigration judge will have to decide whether he is a flight risk and whether he is a danger to the community. I think he should win on that argument, but the immigration judges in Atlanta, Georgia have a nasty history of deporting people more than granting relief. In fact, Atlanta is one of the worst places in the country to be an undocumented immigrant hoping to avoid deportation. If he is released, he will be able to fight his case from outside of jail, which would take years to litigate. If not, he’ll have to fight while in jail, and that will take months.
With more time, I believe the public will know more about what is going on with “21 Savage’s” case. However, none of this is new to me and quite honestly, knowing “21 Savage’s” history, it was expected that ICE would one day be knocking on his door.
At the Law Office of Eric M. Mark, we have seen similar stories happen to many people. We have been successful in defending many clients from deportation. Our specialty in criminal- immigration law means we know the difference between a criminal conviction that will get you deported and one that will not. If you’re a non-U.S. citizen that has been charged criminally, it is important to hire a defense attorney that understands immigration law as well so you can keep your green card.
If you are in immigration proceedings and have a criminal history, make sure to hire an attorney that handles “Crimmigration” Law. We are those attorneys. If you have any questions regarding your case, please call us at the Law Office of Eric M. Mark at 973-453-2009.
Cristina R. D’Amato, Esq.