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Bian: 21 Savage’s detainment displays what we’ve always known about our broken immigration system

Andrea Bian, Assistant Opinion Editor

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On Feb. 3, rapper 21 Savage was arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents who accused him of being in the United States illegally. 21 Savage, whose real name is Sha Yaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, was born in England and, according to ICE, may face deportation due to overstaying a visa that expired in 2006.

As soon as the news broke, social media exploded with outrage over 21 Savage’s unfair arrest. According to 21 Savage’s lawyers, his parents overstayed their work visa while he was a minor, keeping their son in the U.S. and in violation of immigration policy “through no fault of his own.”

21 Savage had spoken out against border control in a performance on “The Tonight Show” just days before. It’s hard to deny that this arrest wasn’t randomly timed — in fact, it probably had something to do with the rapper’s very public criticism of the United States’ policies. It felt like a deliberate attempt to silence the voices affected by new hard-line immigration policies under the Trump administration.

As I scrolled through my Twitter, full of criticisms and memes alike, I was surprised by how intense the reaction was. A new wave of criticism for ICE and the immigration system hit social media. Of the more serious tweets I saw regarding the incident, many expressed sympathy for 21 Savage and his family, specifically his three children. Hip-hop fans insisted he had a right to live in the U.S. and that his arrest was deliberate and unfair.

I agree with them. Aggressive immigration policies like the ones currently in place unfairly target people of color and perpetuate stereotypes about immigrants who often have no other option but to leave their home countries and enter the U.S. Current immigration procedures often assume that all immigrants are dangerous criminals. 21 Savage’s arrest also drew attention to the fact that there are just as many black immigrants as Hispanic and Asian ones, even though black immigrants are rarely included in the immigrant discussion.

I consume quite a bit of news media, and I’ll admit that immigration stories are covered fairly frequently. My issue stands with my social media timeline; some users I follow didn’t show an opinion on the rescission of DACA in 2017 or Customs and Border Protection separating families at the border under their “zero-tolerance” policy last year. As soon as news of 21 Savage’s detainment broke, those same people flooded my feed with concern — the same concern I should have seen as long as these issues have persisted. While immigration has been frequently discussed on social media, I didn’t notice it become truly mainstream until it affected a popular celebrity.

As a citizen and not a politician, I could feel compelled only to comment on cases to which I feel more connected. It’s natural to feel like I can’t do anything to combat such a complicated problem, especially under this administration. But that shouldn’t stop me from using my native-born privilege to keep the conversation going — to motivate politicians to stand their ground against exclusive immigration policy, and to protect all immigrants who — by virtue of living, working and paying taxes in the U.S. — are just as American as I am.

If I ever feel disconnected from such a complex and widespread issue, I imagine my parents — who are immigrants — in the same situation as many people trying to enter the United States in search of safety and stability. And instantly, I can feel for not only 21 Savage, but for the hundreds of thousands of immigrants and families like him that haven’t received as much attention.

Andrea Bian is a Medill first-year. She can be contacted at andreabian2022@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.

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