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21 Savage opens up about ICE arrest: ‘I didn't know what a visa was. I was 7’

21 Savage opens up about ICE arrest: ‘I didn't know what a visa was. I was 7’
Rapper 21 Savage is speaking out after being detained by ICE. (Evan Agostini / Invision/Associated Press)

After spending nine days in ICE custody, rapper 21 Savage told his side of the story Friday on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

The Atlanta musician who was born in England aimed to clear up misinformation about his case following his Feb. 3 arrest by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. He was apprehended because he allegedly overstayed a visa that expired in July 2006.

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“I was just driving. And I just seen guns and blue lights. And, then, I was in the back of a car. And I was gone,” he said on “Good Morning America.” “They didn’t say nothing. They just said, ‘We got Savage.’ ”

Savage, 26, whose real name is She'yaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, told ABC News he arrived in the U.S. when he was 7 years old and attended first grade in Atlanta, so he has limited memories of his native country. He left briefly in 2005 to attend his uncle’s funeral, then returned that same year.

“I didn’t know what a visa was,” he said. “I was 7 when I first came here. I knew I wasn’t born here, but I didn’t know what that meant as far as when I transitioned into an adult, how that was going to affect my life.

“I wasn’t hiding it,” he added, “but it’s like, I didn’t want to be deported, so I wasn’t going to come out and be like, ‘By the way I wasn’t born here,’ to the world.”

The rapper now considers himself a “Dreamer,” a person who has lived in the U.S. without official authorization since coming to the country as a minor.

“I don’t think the policy is broken,” he said. “I feel like the way that they enforce the policy is broken.”

The rapper has gained high-profile support from the music industry, namely that of rapper Jay-Z, who provided additional legal assistance to 21 Savage, much like he did with embattled rapper Meek Mill.

Savage was supposed to attend the Grammy Awards on Sunday, where he was nominated for two awards and was set to perform the hit “Rockstar” with Post Malone.

A demonstration was staged near the red carpet to show support for the musician, whose ordeal went largely unacknowledged during the Grammys telecast. (Malone wore a 21 Savage T-shirt during the show and, upon accepting his award for “This Is America,” Swedish composer Ludwig Goransson said the rapper “should be here tonight.”)

“I’ve been here 20 years, 19 years, this is all I know,” Savage said Friday. “I don’t feel like you should be arrested and put in a place where a murderer would be just for being in the country too long.”

Lawyers for 21 Savage said he was targeted because of a lyric critical of immigration in his song “A Lot.”

“We believe, honestly, that he was targeted, of course, like they said,” lawyer Alex Spiro said in an interview on “Good Morning America.” “And part of the reason, we think, is both because he’s a celebrity, and they can use this as a way to send a message, and also, perhaps, because of his music.”

The musician said that while he was in custody he was put in a room by himself. 21 Savage was released on bond Tuesday and reunited with his kids.

On Friday, Savage attempted to give hope to those experiencing a similar situation.

“I feel your pain,” he said, “and I’m gonna do everything in my power to try and bring awareness to your pain.”

After the interview aired, the rapper faced another long-brewing legal issue on Friday. According to TMZ, 21 Savage turned himself over to Georgia’s Liberty County Sheriff’s Dept. in connection to a separate offense.

The case relates to a 2016 money dispute with a club promoter accusing 21 Savage of taking $17,000 but failing to appear at a gig she booked him for.

The website reported that a felony warrant for his arrest was issued, but sat for two years until the promoter pursued it following the rapper’s arrest on Super Bowl Sunday.

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