Friends and allies of She’yaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, best known as the chart-topping Atlanta rapper 21 Savage, rallied to his defense after Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced his detention. His supporters include Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors, who authored a petition that calls for his release and an end to deportation proceedings.

ICE spokesperson Bryan Cox told CNN yesterday (February 4) that the agency arrested the MC early Sunday morning (February 3) for allegedly living in the United States on an expired visa. Cox says that Abraham-Joseph emigrated, in accordance with U.S. immigration law, as a minor in July 2005; the United Kingdom citizen allegedly broke the law when his visa expired in July 2006. He now faces deportation proceedings in federal court. 

Cullors writes that organizers learned about the detention on Sunday afternoon. The petition, which Black Lives Matter co-presented with the Black Alliance for Just Immigration and several other racial justice organizations, notes that Abraham-Joseph’s arrest reflects the broader criminalization of Black immigrants:

The circumstances of Mr. Abraham-Joseph’s detention stand as a testament to the consistent and historically under-reported harassment and targeting of Black immigrants. The US’ violent history of criminalizing Blackness intersects with its deadly legacy of detaining and deporting Black and Brown immigrants. This needs to stop today!

There are around 4.2 million Black immigrants in the U.S. — 619,000 are undocumented. Mr. Abraham-Joseph has been in the United States since he was a young child. Atlanta is his home. He has no current or prior criminal convictions and he is beloved by his friends, fans and family. It is shameful that he and so many Black immigrants are separated from their families on a daily basis as part of the US’ heartless and racist immigration policies.

Charles Kuck, an Atlanta-based immigration attorney representing Abraham-Joseph, says that ICE officers arrested the artist even though the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which oversees ICE, knew about his U-Visa application. According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which DHS also administers, this visa allows “victims of certain crimes who have suffered mental or physical abuse” to remain in the U.S. pending investigations into crimes against them. Kuck tells TMZ that Abraham-Joseph applied for the U-Visa after surviving a 2013 shooting that took his friend’s life. 

“The Department of Homeland Security has known his address and his history since his filing for the U-Visa in 2017, yet they took no action against him until this past weekend,” Kuck’s statement (below) reads. “ICE can only continue to detain individuals who are a threat to the community or a flight risk to not show up at their hearings. Obviously, our client is not a flight risk, as he is widely recognizable, and a prominent member of the music industry.”

“As a minor, his family overstayed their work visas, and he, like almost two million other children, was left without legal status through no fault of his own,” the statement continues. “This is a civil law violation, and the continued detention of Mr. Abraham-Joseph serves no other purpose than to unnecessarily punish him and try to intimidate him into giving up his right to fight to remain in the United States.”

The Associated Press reports that the news surprised many fans, who did not know about the rapper’s alleged foreign citizenship. It also prompted several of his most prominent creative collaborators to share Cullors’ petition, which boasts over 141,000 signatures as of press time, and demand his release: