Rapper 21 Savage Knows The Trauma Of Growing Up Undocumented, Now He Has A Plan To Help Kids Like Him
Grammy-nominated rapper 21 Savage wants a better future for undocumented children living in the United States illegally. His answer? To grant U.S. citizenship automatically to all children living without documentation. Savage himself grew up without documentation and experienced the chronic fear that undocumented children often carry into adulthood firsthand.
The artist was born in London, England, to Dominican and Haitian parents and moved to the U.S. when he was just 7 years old.
His visa expired in 2006, but his lawyer said it wasn’t his fault. He was just 14 years old when he suddenly experienced the loss of freedom that the visa had granted. “When you’re a child, you don’t know what’s going on,” the rapper told AP News. “Now, you grow up and got to figure it out. Can’t get a job. Can’t get a license. I’m one of the lucky ones who became successful. It’s a lot of people who can’t.”
A decision that was out of his control followed him into adulthood, landing him in an ICE detention facility for ten days.
In 2017, 21 Savage applied to have his visa renewed without resolution. Earlier this year, ICE pulled over the young artist’s vehicle, arrested him, and detained him for ten days in a Georgia facility. Then, a spokesperson for ICE attempted to defame his character, saying, “His whole public persona is false. He actually came to the U.S. from the U.K. as a teen and overstayed his visa.” That simply isn’t true. He was just 7 years old –a baby– when he arrived in the U.S.
Now, he says the visa process is so overwhelming that undocumented people avoid even applying because it “hangs over your head forever.”
Now Savage is using his platform to speak on his experience as an undocumented child.
“When you ain’t got no choice, you should be exempt,” 21 Savage told AP. “It’s not like I was 30, woke up and moved over here. I’ve been here since I was like 7 or 8, probably younger than that. I didn’t know anything about visas and all that. I just knew we were moving to a new place.”
Savage believes that granting automatic citizenship will even the playing field for hope for a better life with every other documented child.
“They just lose hope,” Savage told AP. “I feel like kids who were brought here at young ages, they should automatically be like ‘Yeah, you good to stay here, work and go to college.’ It should be nipped in the bud before it gets to a point before you come of age.” There are an estimated 1.1 million undocumented minors currently living in the United States. As they become of age, they watch their peers obtain legal jobs under healthy working conditions, obtain a driver’s license and go to college. Education access is a huge roadblock for undocumented youth, with 40% of undocumented adults under 24 reporting that they did not complete high school.
For all the fiscal conservatives out there, granting citizenship to undocumented youth would likely only improve the economy.
According to University of Washington Professor of Sociology Roberto Gonzalez, “Given the opportunity to receive additional education and move into better-paying jobs, undocumented students would pay more in taxes and have more money to spend and invest in the U.S. economy.” Access to education begins with citizenship. Undocumented youth are not eligible for merit scholarships, FAFSA or Pell grants are only available to U.S. citizens. One Colorado non-profit, Together Colorado, predicts that an increase of $2.2 billion in tax revenue would result from “full immigration reform” that would allow undocumented youth to be granted equal participation in creating their own ceiling.
The National Immigration Law Center is awarding 21 Savage for his immigration activism efforts.
Savage fell into the school to prison pipeline early on in life. His brother, born in the U.S., was killed in a shooting. In seventh grade, Savage was personally banned from every public school in his county for gun possession. He was sent to a youth detention center, and when he got out, he joined a gang affiliated with The Bloods. Still, he was able to make a career for himself in the music industry, and experience class mobility, unlike most other undocumented children. His immigration court date has been postponed indefinitely. That makes his story a win.
“We got a fight that we need to continue in this country,” Savage said. “It ain’t over yet. Even after everything is cool with me, we still have to fight and help people who can’t fight for themselves.” Share if you agree.