21 Savage spoke to The New York Times about his arrest and subsequent release from ICE custody earlier this month, delving into his memories of his early childhood in London and arrival in the United States at age 7.
Though right wing anti-immigration discourse criticizes undocumented immigrants for using social services without paying taxes, one of Savage’s key points in the interview is how incredibly difficult it was to grow up in poverty without access to necessary government assistance. “We struggled but we couldn’t get food stamps, we couldn’t get government assistance,” he said. “I learned how to live without.”
Do you remember when you became aware that your status wasn’t settled?
Probably like the age when you start to get your driver’s license. I couldn’t never take driver’s ed, I couldn’t never go get a job. About that age.
Was it something you wanted to get taken care of?
It felt impossible. It got to the point where I just learned to live without it. ’Cause I still ain’t got it, I’m 26, and I’m rich. So, just learned to live without it.
After Savage was arrested in Atlanta on February 3, he was threatened with deportation, a frightening prospect considering he’d been living in the United States for nearly two decades:
It really wasn’t jail, it was the possibility of me not being able to live in this country no more that I’ve been living in my whole life. All that just going through your head, like, “Damn, I love my house, I ain’t gonna be able to go in my house no more? I ain’t gonna be able to go to my favorite restaurant that I been going to for 20 years straight?”
Savage never discussed his undocumented status for fear of catching the attention of the authorities. But he’s been speaking about it quite a bit in the aftermath of the arrest, having sat down with Good Morning America on Friday in addition to Sunday’s interview in the Times. This, he says, is in part due to the responsibility he feels to advocate for other undocumented immigrants who fear deportation.
“My situation is important ’cause I represent poor black Americans and I represent poor immigrant Americans,” he said. “You gotta think about all the millions of people that ain’t 21 Savage that’s in 21 Savage shoes.”
The Pew Research Center estimates that there were about 10.7 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States in 2016. It’s a far cry from President Trump’s rough estimate of 30 million. But these 10.7 million people need jobs and access to social services, and are being terrorized by ICE agents who park themselves outside courthouses and public schools. If ICE can rattle a well-publicized celebrity, the fear is far worse for folks who don’t have Kendrick Lamar and Post Malone advocating for them.