An immigration lawyer helps explain 21 Savage’s ICE detainment

New York-based immigration attorney Betty Huang gives us her perspective on the Atlanta-based rapper’s current legal predicament.

February 05, 2019

This past Sunday, while much of the general public aimed their attention towards Atlanta for Super Bowl LIII, news broke that 21 Savage had been detained by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement — a.k.a. ICE — in the city earlier that morning.

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A spokesperson for ICE released a statement shortly after claiming that the rapper, who has been widely associated with the city of Atlanta, is actually a U.K. national, and has been unlawfully present in the United States since 2006 after his visa expired.

In the two days since, Charles H. Kuck, the attorney handling Savage’s immigration case, issued a statement which shed a bit of light at the situation, claiming that 21 — who is currently on a “23 hour lockdown” according to his managers — has been detained “based upon incorrect information about prior criminal charges.”

By Tuesday, 21 Savage fans, his managers Kei Henderson and Meezy, along with a number of celebrities all vocalized their support for the detained rapper and his family on social media. Black Lives Matter has also created a petition demanding that 21 be released. As of press time, it has over 151,000 signatures.

In light of the whirlwind of information released in recent days regarding 21’s detainment/possible deportation, and what he’s faced with in the coming weeks, FADER spoke with Betty Huang — an immigration attorney based in New York City — to try and unpack what’s going on.

In general, what's your take on what's happening with 21 Savage.

Sure — so after reading the statement from Charles Kuck (21 Savage's attorney), I think it clarifies things a lot more since yesterday. I think all of us were doing a lot of educated guessing (me and all of my immigration attorney colleagues), but the fact is that 21 Savage has had a U-Visa application pending since 2017, so if ICE wanted to pick him up back then, they could have done so.

When you file an application with the USCIS — U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services — them and ICE are under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. They share and transfer information to each other. So for instance, if you have an application denied by the USCIS, they could send that file to ICE, and ICE could start deportation proceedings against you.

So if you put in information for a U-Visa application in 2017, why is ICE picking [21 Savage] up now? I think that's one huge question.

Now of course the application is pending, and under the Trump administration, there's has been a lot going on with U-Visas. This isn't the first time we've heard of people who have pending U-Visa applications that are either being put into deportation proceedings, or the immigration courts aren't caring about it. They're not adjourning cases so that the USCIS has the time to adjudicate U-Visa cases. So again, the question of why is ICE picking him up now shows a lot about what's going on under the Trump administration and how much they hate immigrants, and a lot of strange, retaliatory type of actions.

Let me also say that I think it's extremely important that there has been a lot of public pressure on this story. The fact that news outlets are covering it, celebrities are tweeting about it...I also saw that Black Lives Matter started a petition — it's all very helpful when it comes to dealing with ICE, because ICE likes to work under the cover of secrecy, and they're not transparent.

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Even when we were still guessing, before Charles Kuck came out with his statement, we were still, as practitioners, so hesitant to rely on ICE's words. They come out with things that are inaccurate, and they certainly don't come out with the whole picture. So the public pressure, the petitions, all of that is extremely helpful and useful.

In your experience, what typically comes next for someone in 21's predicament?

The first point of action is always trying to get your client out of immigration detention, because ICE likes to move people around to different ICE detention facilities around the country. So that's the number one goal, then after that is waiting for the actual scheduled removal hearing date — to actually appear before a judge about the issues. So what's going to happen next is [21 Savage]'s attorney is going to try to post bond/bail on him, and I'm not quite sure when that's going to happen, because you can ask for it through ICE first, and if they deny it, you can make a motion to have an immigration judge make a decision.

Is there a typical time frame of when a hearing or proceeding should occur?

So the bond hearing should happen within the next few weeks. I'm assuming Charles Kuck has already reached out to ICE themselves. If they say no — that'll happen within a few days — then it moves on to court, and that can happen within a few weeks. But once he gets out, then it's waiting on the immigration court dates, and that's based on the court calendar. And again, I don't even know where he's being held, so I don't know which immigration court will be doing his removal proceedings. I'm assuming its Atlanta, since he lives there, and that's where I think he got picked up.

Can you give a bit of an explainer on what a U-Visa is and what is it for?

It's an application that is specifically for victims of certain crimes — certain is the key. Those who suffered mental or physical abuse, and are helpful to law enforcement or government officials in prosecuting criminal activity. Certain qualifying activities: if you were a victim of abduction, or incest, kidnapping, manslaughter murder, trafficking, or felonious assault.

So there's quite a few qualifying criminal activities that you first have to prove, and then the second aspect of it is that you helped the government, the police, or the D.A. help prosecute an individual, or even just help them in their investigation to find the individual who committed the criminal act.

One part of this application, is that you have to get the government official you helped, to sign off to confirm that the victim did in fact help the government or the D.A. investigate criminal activity. With that certification, you're able to file a form with the USCIS to get a U-Visa non-immigrant status.

Unfortunately the [government] only gives 10,000 U-Visas a year, so there's quite a long line. I've done a few, and I have cases that are still pending from 2016. I think it's about a three or four year wait, and then once that gets approved, after a continuous period of at least three years after getting the U-Visa — and other things, like you've been physically present in the U.S. — then you are able to apply for your legal permanent residence, a.k.a. your Green Card.

Could the fact that 21 Savage has children who are U.S. Citizens have an impact on the outcome of the proceedings?

Yeah — lets say the judge that [21 Savage] is in front of is not willing to suspend or adjourn the case until the U-Visa application has gone forward or has been adjudicated. 21 Savage can then also apply for something called cancellation of removal, which is something that occurs in immigration court. It's a defensive application against removal/deportation.

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One aspect of that cancellation of removal case is to show that you have qualifying relatives in the United States who will suffer extreme and unusual hardship if you are deported. So U.S. citizen children can count as qualifying relatives.

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An immigration lawyer helps explain 21 Savage’s ICE detainment