Just days after he was released on bond and granted an expedited hearing, the 26-year-old emcee sat down with Good Morning America to discuss his immigration case. The interview came after Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrested the British national -- whose real name is She'yaa Bin Abraham-Joseph -- on Feb. 3, because his non-immigrant visa expired back in 2006 when he was a minor.
On Super Bowl Sunday, ahead of the GRAMMY Awards where he was nominated and slated to perform, 21 Savage said he "was just driving" in Atlanta, Georgia, when he started seeing "guns and blue lights."
"And then, I was in the back of a car. And I was gone," he recalled. "...They didn't say nothing. They just said, 'We got Savage.'"
"It was definitely targeted," he added.
As for why he was targeted, Alex Spiro -- one of 21 Savage's lawyers, who JAY-Z hired on his behalf -- thinks it has do with both his celebrity status and the content of his music, some of which calls out the immigration system.
"There's a lot of things about this case that are curious and troubling. Even if you start at the beginning. He's somebody who comes here as a young man -- he's one of the 'dreamers' as they're called -- and he comes over here and he has a singular offence for marijuana when he's a college-aged person that's vacated [and] sealed," Spiro said. "There's no issue. He's getting a visa. He's operating in good faith. He's performing. He's giving back to his community. He's a son. He's a father. And yet, they take this step, this unusual step, to arrest him the week before the GRAMMYs and not give him bond. We find the whole thing curious and troubling."
"We believe, honestly, that he was targeted, of course, like they said and part of the reason, we think, is because he's both a celebrity and they can use this as a way to send a message and also, perhaps, because of his music," Spiro added.
The rapper, however, was unsure if his music had anything to do with his arrest. "My lawyers think that. I don't really know. I can't really say," he said. "I think I would see why people would think that, but I really can't say."
ICE confirmed to GMA that 21 Savage was "apprehended during a targeted operation with federal and local law enforcement partners."
21 Savage said he entered the country when he was seven years old and "didn't even know what a visa was."
"I knew I wasn't born here, but I didn't know, like, what that meant as far as when I transitioned into an adult how it was going to affect my life," he said. "I wasn't hiding it, but it's, like, I didn't want to get deported so I'm not gonna just come out and be like, 'Hey, by the way, I wasn't born here.'"
"I've been here 20 years, 19 years, this is all I know. You know what I'm saying?" he added. "I don't feel like you should be arrested and put in a place where a murderer would be for just being in the country for too long."
21 Savage also revealed that he was alone "in one room all day," but used advice from his mom to get through.
"My mama told me to picture where I wanna be," he said. "She said, 'Visualize yourself, whatever you wanna do, just close your eyes and visualize yourself doing that. And as long as you do that, you will never be in jail.'"
Deportation is something that concerns him, but he knows he'll be OK if it does come to that. "I feel like I done been through so much in my life, like, I learned to embrace the times when I'm down 'cause they always build me up," he said.
While Spiro said that 21 Savage is "vulnerable" to deportation, he remains "confident that he'll be able to remain here."
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Despite his experience, 21 Savage doesn't "feel like the policy is broken. I feel like the way they enforce the policy is broken."
In addition to working to become a citizen -- something he was already actively attempting before his arrest by submitting a U Visa application -- 21 Savage is focused on the people that are still detained without bond.
"I feel your pain and I'm going to do everything in my power to try and bring awareness to your pain," he said.
"I think the message is that we can't forget about the people that don't have the resources, that don't have the fame, to fight for their freedom, both in the criminal system and in the immigration system," Spiro said. "There's people that are just totally forgotten that exist in these detention centers. And people like JAY-Z and he stepped in for Meek Mill and he stepped in here. And now I'm hoping people like 21 Savage will bring light to these issues and help the people that are forgotten."
Dina LaPolt, another lawyer on 21 Savage's legal team, said that they're actively working to make him a system, "but it's very, very complicated and there's a lot of steps that we have to go through."
"He wakes up every day thinking, 'How can I help people?' I mean, he's set up national financial literacy programs, he does things with the solicitor general attorney in Atlanta, you know, talking to the youth of Atlanta," LaPolt said. "... He helps young mothers. I mean, he's an amazing individual."