21 Savage on his immigration case: "I'm not leaving without a fight"

By Justin Carissimo

/ CBS News

In a new interview with The New York Times, rapper 21 Savage opened up about his time in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody and how growing up with an uncertain immigration status has shaped him into the man he is today.

The rapper, born She-yaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, was arrested by ICE agents in Georgia on February 3 and he was held in a detention center until he was released on bond February 13. ICE officials said the British-born rapper entered the U.S. illegally in 2005 and stayed in the country after his nonimmigrant visa expired a year later.

When asked if he remembers arriving in the U.S. as a child, 21 Savage said his family came from the "poor side" of London and immediately fell in love with life in America. He began noticing his immigration status was unresolved when he tried obtaining things like his driver's license or a job. He said settling it "seemed impossible," so he learned to live without it.

"We struggled but we couldn't get food stamps, we couldn't get government assistance. I learned how to live without. You know in school, when you get to a certain age, your clothes make you popular? I learned how to be popular without that. People respected me just for me," he told the Times.

21 Savage attends an event in Atlanta on December 21, 2018. Prince Williams/Wireimage via Getty

21 Savage admitted that being deported from the U.S. is his "worst nightmare," but he still respects the U.S. immigration system. "Even if you got money, it ain't easy. It ain't no favoritism, and I respect it, I honestly respect it. It would be kind of messed up if they treated rich immigrants better than poor immigrants, I think," he said, adding that he plans to continue fighting a potential deportation.

"It's like, I got three kids, my mama, everything that I know is here in Atlanta. I'm not leaving Atlanta without a fight. We gon' fight all the way till the last day even if that mean I sit in jail for 10 years," he told the Times.

His legal team believes the 26-year-old rapper was targeted by ICE because of his celebrity and over his music. One of his recent singles, "A Lot," takes aim at the family separations at the U.S.-Mexico border: "Been through some things, but I couldn't imagine, my kids stuck at the border."

While he said he has no current plans to rap about his experience, he said feels a certain responsibility to speak out about his fight.

"My situation is important 'cause I represent poor black Americans and I represent poor immigrant Americans. You gotta think about all the millions of people that ain't 21 Savage that's in 21 Savage shoes," he said.

First published on February 18, 2019

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Justin Carissimo

Justin is a breaking news editor at CBS News. Reach him at [email protected]

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