21 Savage believes that immigrants who were brought to the United States when they were children should automatically be given citizenship in the country.
The rapper, who is from London and moved to the U.S. when he was seven years old, made headlines in February when U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detained him on the grounds of overstaying a visa that reportedly expired in 2006. His situation came to national attention when celebrities like DJ Khaled, SZA, and Kendrick Lamar all petitioned for his release, which came eight days later. A deportation hearing was set for April 9; it has since been postponed indefinitely.
On Thursday, (October 3), he received an award for being an advocate for immigrant justice from the National Immigration Law Center, an organization that analyzes policy and works in support of immigrants. In an interview with the Associated Press shortly before receiving the award, the rapper spoke briefly about his own situation and contextualized it with the experience of other people in similar circumstances.
“When you ain’t got no choice, you should be exempt,” he said. “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,” he added. “I didn’t know anything about visas and all that. I just knew we’re moving to a new place. I feel like we should be exempt. I feel like we should automatically become citizens.”
It’s hard to get a full picture of how many undocumented people who came as minors are in the U.S., for a number of reasons — up to and including their fear of risking ICE retaliation if they identify themselves. Between 690,000 and 800,000 people in America are recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, the Obama-era immigration policy that gives a period of deferred deportation action to people who were brought to the country as children and meet certain requirements; they make up a small portion of DREAMers, so-called for the DREAM Act that politicians have failed to pass for years.
21 Savage first spoke out about his detainment experience in February to Good Morning America. “I don’t think the policy is broken, I feel like the way they enforce the policy is broken,” he said at the time. “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 too long.”