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ICE has detained 21 Savage, claiming he is a ‘UK national’

Memes about the Atlanta rapper being secretly British are funny, but there might be more to this story than meets the eye

Yesterday, 21 Savage was arrested was arrested and taken into custody by ICE, the US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency. In a statement to WAGA, an affiliate of Atlanta Fox, ICE said that the rapper (birth name Sha Yaa Bin Abraham-Joseph) is in fact a “United Kingdom national”, and is “unlawfully present in the US and also a convicted felon”.

“Mr. Abraham-Joseph initially entered the US legally in July 2005, but subsequently failed to depart under the terms of his nonimmigrant visa and he became unlawfully present in the US when his visa expired in July 2006,” the statement reads. “In addition to being in violation of federal immigration law, Mr. Abraham-Joseph was convicted on felony drug charges in October 2014 in Fulton County, Georgia.” ICE’s spokesperson added to CNN’s Nick Valencia that he “actually came to the US from the UK as a teen and overstayed his visa”, and that “his whole public persona is false”.

21 Savage was reportedly not the target of the arrest, but was travelling in a car with another rapper who was, when ICE learned of his immigration status. He is currently being held in ICE custody in Georgia, and has been placed into removal proceedings by federal immigration courts. Dina LaPolt, an attorney for the rapper, told the website TMZ that lawyers were “working diligently to get Mr Abraham-Joseph out of detention while we work with authorities to clear up any misunderstanding”.

Given how closely 21 is associated with Atlanta (last year, for example, he gave free school supplies to more than 2,500 DeKalb County school students), the idea that he is actually an imposter from the UK led to a lot of daft memes and jokes. And it is a completely bonkers story, if it’s true – but there could be more to the story than meets the eye.

ICE’s claim that 21 specifically “came to the US from the UK” is hard to verify. ICE’s initial statement was carefully worded, referring to the rapper as a “United Kingdom national”, rather than saying outright which country he’s from. In a 2016 interview with The FADER, 21 Savage said that his mother is of Dominica descent, and while his place of birth could not immediately be confirmed, some listings name it as Dominica, a former territory of the British Empire in the West Indies (Dominica does not grant birthright citizenship, but if this is true, there is the possiblility that 21 previously applied for UK citizenship through family in the country).

The UK’s Windrush scandal proved that citizenship can be a messy subject, and there is plenty of evidence suggesting that initial statements by ICE shouldn’t always be taken as gospel. Scepticism should be applied until more of the story emerges.

Representatives for 21 Savage and ICE did not immediately respond to a request for comment.