What We Need to Learn From 21 Savage?
In the shadow of Super Bowl Sunday, Immigration and Customs Enforcement detained Grammy award winning rapper 21 Savage in Atlanta, Georgia. 21 Savage, whose real name is She’yaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, was taken into custody without bond. The allegations state that he has been in the United States illegally since entering on an H-4 visa in 2005. During these past almost 14 years, 21 Savage has risen to stardom as one of the most popular rap artists worldwide. In 2014 he had an alleged run in with the police and was arrested and charged with marijuana possession with intent to distribute, possession of a firearm or knife during the commission of certain felonies, and manufacturing, delivery, distribution and/or possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute. His counsel stated that these crimes were later expunged.
What should the music industry learn from 21 Savage’s case?
- Be sure to always double check your artists’ immigration status. Ask to see their visa and also check their I-94 online at https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/I94/#/home to make sure they are in status.
- Calendar when both their visa and their I-94 will expire to secure against any inadvertent overstays.
- Verify with immigration counsel that the visa they currently hold is the correct visa for what they are currently doing in the United States.
- Artists should be honest and open with their management and disclose any past criminal history inside or outside the United States. Even though a person’s criminal history is something that nobody wants to talk about, it is critical that it is disclosed. If an artist does have a criminal history, immigration counsel should be consulted immediately.
- If an artist is arrested and/or convicted for any type of crime, immigration counsel should be notified immediately in order to determine what effect it will have on their immigration status. Waiting to tell immigration counsel of an arrest can be extremely detrimental to the artist. Immigration counsel should always have the opportunity to work closely with criminal representation to mitigate the effects of certain types of convictions (plea bargains) that may be beneficial to a US citizen, but could be disastrous to a foreign national.
- Expungement does not erase a crime from a criminal record for federal immigration purposes. Therefore, just because someone expunges a crime off your record you can still be found inadmissible or deportable based on that crime.
We are very lucky to have and enjoy the music of international artists, and what has happened to 21 Savage in no way should stop the US music industry from embracing artists from around the world. However, this should put the industry on notice that they must be diligent about protecting these artists by obtaining the proper visas necessary and keeping them in status at all times.