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A Look At The Nuance Of U.S. Immigration Through The Lens Of 21 Savage’s Case

Alex Spiro also discusses what sets the U Visa apart from others, the cost and conditions of detainment and more.

For nine days, 21 Savage carried out his day-to-day inside a detention center, a timeframe that felt like two months according to his manager, Kei Henderson. The “A Lot” rapper was detained by the Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) in Atlanta, Georgia (Feb. 3) on claims that he’s a British citizen who overstayed his visa since migrating to the U.S. city in 2005 at age seven. The detainment occurred when the 26-year-old was pulled over by the Atlanta Police Department (APD), with ICE in tow. APD claims it had an arrest warrant for rapper Young Nudy, a cousin of 21 Savage who was also part of the artist’s entourage at the time of the incident.

On Feb. 12, 21 was released on bond until his immigration court case occurs. Since Savage’s incident reached the national spotlight, petitions and a larger conversation on the nation’s immigration policy have reached a fevered pitch. The situation was accelerated once Jay-Z contracted attorney Alex Spiro to represent Savage, born She’yaa Bin Abraham-Joseph.

While the detainment presumably shocked the masses, the most glaring issue is the fact that Abraham-Joseph was not initially granted bond — that discretion is left up to ICE or a judge. Spiro notes that ICE can also attribute past criminal offenses “into their enforcement policies and strategies,” when it concerns detainment, but given ICE’s controversial statement on Abraham-Joseph (noting his past and expunged felony drug charge), Spiro believes this situation is a “miscarriage of justice, a misuse of resources.”

“And I’ll say two further things,” Spiro continues. “One is even if you take the position that he should have to answer to ICE for any of these issues, why not bond him out, allow him access to his paperwork, to his family, to his lawyers and allow him to fight his day in court like a civilized human being? The second thing is, to talk about the resource question, even thinking about this as an economics question, rather than let this man be at liberty where he provides for so many people, so many people depend on him for their own employment, so many of his dollars go to helping taxes, so many of his dollars go to philanthropy and helping people and rather than allowing him to help society and bring joy through his music and bring happiness, instead of that, what do we do? We take those same government resources and we do an operational target to incarcerate him, to cage him.”

Spiro says he can’t draw up conclusions or “speak to” ICE’s “motivations,” noting that there could be varied reasons behind the agency’s motion. "It may be just as simple as they’re just treating him like everybody else but we’re not used to it as a society becoming so public," Spiro says. "Once it becomes public it’s just troubling and seems disproportionate and illogical, and it may very well be that he was targeted either to set an example or for some other convoluted reason. I don’t know yet because my focus has almost entirely been on the avenues to release, but we’ll get to the bottom of what happened here one way or another."

Now, with Abraham-Joseph awaiting the fate of his status in the U.S. while out on bond and in the midst of an expedited hearing, Spiro states the pieces of this puzzle have to be treated with precision. “When you’re dealing with people’s liberty, you can’t just look at it like an equation. You have to try at least at some level to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and think to yourself if they had the power and I had grown up in their country, how would I want to be treated and what would be the decent and right way to treat me?” he says. “If we could do that and have a little empathy I think it would go a long way to solving what anybody in the world outside of America must think is a very troubling problem and a lot of people in America are starting to think is a troubling problem.”

Here, we look at a few terms and past immigration instances that outline the severity of the country’s treatment of migrants and the legislation that can alter the lives of those awaiting legal residence.

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1. How The IIRAIRA Radicalized Immigration:

The combination of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRAIRA) allowed the government to separate undocumented immigrants into two sets. According to The Huffington Post, the division is distinctly based off how a migrant entered the U.S. If one came to America with a visa but overstayed its duration, then they will not have to return to their home country in order to file for official residence since they entered legally. If someone entered illegally, they would have to return to their native country in order to file for legal residence.

If an applicant raises a red flag under any “grounds of inadmissibility,” like unlawfully living in the country between 180 to 365 days, applicants can face a three-year penalty, while overstaying more than a year can pin 10 years before someone is allowed re-entry.

“Removal deportation and the laws that govern it are very complicated. Suffice it to say that we are trying to avoid that,” Spiro says concerning Abraham-Joseph’s case. “The other thing that can happen is the visa and paperwork that’s been pending can actually get accelerated and get determined fast enough so that they catch up or bypass the need for removal.”

2. Qualifications For U Nonimmigrant Status (U Visa):

It’s been stated that Abraham-Joseph has filed for U Nonimmigrant Status or a U Visa in 2017. Persons that qualify for this form of legal residency have to be a victim of a specific crime (sexual assault, trafficking, extortion, manslaughter, domestic violence, witness tampering) or encountered mental or physical trauma as a result of the crime’s aftermath. Victims can also assist law enforcement in apprehending suspects and helping to solve the case.

In 2013, Abraham-Joseph was shot six times and lost his close friend, Johnny, during the incident. The pair were the victims of an attempted robbery. Spiro notes 21 Savage’s application has remained pending for quite some time. “The backlog is years and years, this site indicates that over five years these visas can be pending before processing,” he says. Spiro believes an increase in employees to handle these types of applications can help accelerate processing times. “Maybe we should put more people to process visas and be humanitarian in the way that they deal with people and less people out handcuffing un-dangerous people who don’t need to be handcuffed.”

If Abraham-Joseph’s U Visa application gets approved by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), he will become a “lawfully permanent resident” or a Green Card holder, and have access to rights like opening a bank account and attending an “academic or vocational” school. The government caps the amount of U Visas it approves at 10,000 per year. A victim of criminal activity is solely eligible for this form of immigrant status, not their families. The length of the U Visa’s processing time can take anywhere from a year to a year and a half.

3. Detainment Conditions And Mental Health:

Georgia’s Irwin County Detention Center is the reported facility where Abraham-Joseph was held. According to Rolling Stone, it’s deemed one of ICE’s worst immigration centers with multiple reports of sexual assault, abuse of solitary confinement by guards, and expired food being served to detainees. In a summary published by Project South, Irwin is also known for administering high bond rates.

Spiro says Abraham-Joseph’s living conditions were “inhumane” and his communication with those on the outside was strictly limited — to have contact with his legal team was a privilege. “He has no ability meaningfully to exercise and have proper nutrition and he’s severely limited in his ability to even get legal help and to protect himself. He can’t respond when somebody says something in public or the media. He’s given no voice,” Spiro reveals. “He’s utterly voiceless and it’s a dehumanizing experience and he’s lucky that he’s so beloved that people are going to be out there protecting him for him but it is a scary thing to not be able to protect yourself. He has young children. He can’t be with them to protect them and it’s a travesty.”

In mid-2018, Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy displayed how dire conditions are within detainment centers, especially concerning children who are separated from their guardians, and the mental health assistance that certain people will need once released. It’s also reported that immigrants dealing with mental health issues have been unjustly placed in solitary confinement. “There is a pattern of people with psycho-social disabilities being inappropriately placed in isolation, not receiving adequate mental health care, and dying by suicide,” said Clara Long, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch. Recently, a 40-year-old Russian man named Mergensana Amar, who was seeking asylum, committed suicide after a year of detainment at an immigration center. The Washington Post also notes that nine people died in 2018 while under ICE’s detainment.

4. The Cost Of Detainment:

In a report by CNBC that analyzed ICE’s 2018 budget, $133.99 per day is the cost it takes to preserve an adult bed. For families that include mothers and children, $319 per day is the cost to maintain that space. The article also outlines ICE’s estimate that immigrants are kept in detention centers for 44 days on average.

“Every single day that he is in there, we are paying for him to be detained,” Spiro says on Abraham-Joseph. “We are paying money to actually put this man in a cage when he can just as easily fight this case from the outside and we can go to court and handle it that way.”

Earlier this month, Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) gathered 200,000 signatures to demand that fellow Democrats decline future increases in ICE's budget, The Hill reports. Ocasio-Cortez, who has called for ICE's abolishment, took aim at the agency for its treatment of not only Abraham-Joseph but also political game-changers and children.

5. Immigration Across The Globe:

Across the globe, the paths of migration from underserved countries to those with greater economic opportunities continue to shed a spotlight on various nations’ immigration policies. There was the onset of Brexit in 2016, Italy’s crackdown on an influx of those seeking asylum, and Trump’s belief that a border wall between the states and Mexico will drastically cut crime, plus his Muslim Ban proposal.

The Trump administration recently attempted to end the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program, which benefited those migrating from El Salvador, South Sudan, Haiti, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, Honduras, Syria, Nepal, and Nicaragua. It was meant to protect migrants who left countries ravaged by natural disasters or armed turmoil and are unable to return. Over 320,000 people fall under TPS.

Another sector of immigration that fell under intense scrutiny within Trump’s administration was the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). In 2017, he attempted to nix any hope of "dreamers" renewing their application, thus putting them at risk for deportation. DACA, which benefits 700,000 young adults, was established in 2012 to temporarily protect children who migrated to the U.S. before they turned 16 from removal. It also presented another form of the term "lawfully present" and would allow DACA recipients a chance to get a higher education and work permits as they went through the proper channels for legal residence.

“I think that young people that are not born here, and so are not given citizenship but come here in their early years, face the question of their place and their status from the moment they start becoming adults,” Spiro says. “As a teenager at some point no doubt where you realize you’re not an American citizen and if something goes wrong, if you don’t have a way to get citizenship, if you don’t have a way to get status, if you don’t have a way to get a visa, that you live a life in limbo and a life that’s insecure in some ways. That’s a troubling thing for people to have to grow up with.”

While Abraham-Joseph was released on bond, his fate is still in the process of being determined by an immigration judge. “There are rules and laws that govern this but at the end of the day ever since he was moving forward with his life as an adult,” Spiro says, “he’s been dealing with this immigration issue and dealing with it in good faith.”

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Beyonce, Jay-Z and Blue Ivy Carter attends the 60th Annual GRAMMY Awards at Madison Square Garden on January 28, 2018 in New York City.
Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images for NARAS

An Ode To Jay-Z, The Ultimate Rap Dad

Rap, throughout its history, has always referenced parenthood in some form. Most often, it was to extol single mothers for their goodness while deadbeat fathers were berated and called out for going ghost. In recent years, as the social media landscape has blown open the avenues of communication, famous rap dads, in particular, have become increasingly transparent about their lives as family men. Where years ago there seemed to be endless bars mourning the demise of the father, artists are now using their platform to balance the scales. They’re showing themselves to be present and intentional.

Few albums make me think more about the concept of parenthood, and legacy, than Jay-Z’s 13th studio album, 4:44. It’s a stark and blistering work of memoir, heavy on confession and self-examination. When 4:44 finally dropped, I, like many others, was filled with wonder. How was it that Jay had managed to so fluidly deconstruct everything I’d been wrestling with for the last few years? Though the specifics of our experiences differed greatly, the central ideas dissected on 4:44, especially those concerning fatherhood and family life, had been swimming around my brain for some time.

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Hip-hop saved my life. And it was fatherhood that set it on fire. This bears explaining.

What hip-hop has done for me, is what it has done for millions of fatherless and heart-wounded kids—it provided, at the very least, the shading of a better life. If it wasn’t for hip-hop, and the value I ascribed to it, it would be impossible to know just how far I’d have settled into the more lamentable aspects of my environment. Forasmuch of a goon as I was growing up, something always kept me from becoming too emotionally invested in harsh crime. I dabbled in mischief like an amateur chef knowing he would only go so far. I saw in hip-hop, in the art of it, something worth pursuing with tenacity; something like a healthy distraction. So I committed to finding my lane.

Though there were brief stints dedicated to developing my modest graffiti skills and footwork, it was the words that flowed and came without struggle. The school cyphers sharpened my wits and compelled me to feed my vocabulary daily. Only my wordplay could save me from getting ripped to shreds in a lunchroom battle. I read books and scoured the dictionary for ammunition, I listened to stand-up comics who fearlessly engaged the crowd and proved quick on the draw. It seemed fruitless to know a billion words if I couldn’t convert them into brutal attacks. I had to break the competition down and render them defenseless, stammering for a rebuttal. There could be no confusion as to my superiority. So instead of joining the stickup kids or depositing all of my energy into intramural sports, I put my soul and mind into the task of taking down all manner of wack MCs. That’s why I say that hip-hop saved me.

But fatherhood was its own saving grace. It showed me that the world did not revolve, nor would it ever revolve, around my passions. Fatherhood put an extra battery behind my back as a creative, sure. But it’s more about being a consistent presence at home than chasing any dream.

***

As an artist and writer, I cannot so much as think about fatherhood without considering some of the material that deals with feelings comparable to those I felt after I became a father. Songs that contextualize very specific emotions over the drums.

In his 2012 track “Glory,” Jay-Z, someone who had long been vocal about his strained relationship with his father, reflects on the birth of his daughter Blue Ivy, his first child with wife Beyoncé. Produced by the Neptunes, “Glory” was released on January 9, just two days after Blue was born. From start to finish, it carries a sort of gleeful melancholy that resonates on multiple levels. While it is, in essence, a comment on the exuberant joy attached with welcoming a child, “Glory” is also a note on death and mourning.

Before Blue came along and flipped the script, Beyoncé had suffered a miscarriage. The pain the couple experienced left them fearful of not being able to conceive. The dual purpose of “Glory” is made clear from the outset, and with blazing transparency. “False alarms and false starts,” offers Jay, laying the groundwork for what immediately follows: “All made better by the sound of your heart.” The second half of the couplet establishes what was, as we come to learn, the most pivotal moment in the rap mogul’s life up until then. The moment where all is made right, where the sting of loss is eclipsed by the possibility of new birth. Jay continues in this mode, shining light on the redeeming gift that is Blue and, also, how the child is a composite of her mother and father, yet more still.

The opening bars of the following verse are equally striking as Jay, addressing Blue, touches on the death of his father from liver failure. Jay is signaling here, leading us somewhere but with the intent to shift gears. Instead of dwelling on his father’s shortcomings like one might expect him to, Jay breaks left, resolving that deep down his father was a good man. What begins as an indictment of a cheat who walked out on his obligations, ends with a declaration of forgiveness and generosity. But Jay soon directs the focus back to his blessing and how hard it is not to spoil her rotten as she is the child of his destiny. It becomes apparent that this is a man at his most self-actualized. A few more welcome digressions and “Glory” closes the same way that it begins, with the final line of the hook: “My greatest creation was you.” This points to something that I, too, came to know as fact. That no matter what I do, and regardless of what I might attain—power, wealth, the esteem of my peers—nothing is quite comparable to the happiness and the terror that comes with siring a child. “Glory” succeeds as it casts aside any traces of bluster and bravado, making room for Jay to unearth lessons that were hard-won yet central to his maturation. And what is the purpose of making art if not to bust open your soul and watch it spill over? Shout out to the rap dads raising babies and doing the work to shift the narrative.

Juan Vidal is a writer, critic, and author of Rap Dad: A Story of Family and the Subculture That Shaped a Generation.

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Mike Coppola

The Cast Of 'SHAFT' Talk Family Traditions, Power And The Film's Legacy

Back in 1971, Richard Roundtree became the face of the legendary crime/blaxploitation film SHAFT. His influence in the role paved the way for a new generation of black detectives filled with a gluttonous amount of swag, clever one-liners, and action-packed scenes. Samuel L. Jackson followed suit in the franchise’s 2000 installment as he took over the streets of Uptown Manhattan and Harlem filling in for Roundtree’s original character.

Fast forward to 2019, and SHAFT’s legacy has risen to higher heights, incorporating Roundtree and Jackson together with an extension of their detective prowess. Director Tim Story created a familial driven movie centered around three different generations of SHAFT men. Roundtree plays the grandfather; Jackson plays the dad—and Jessie T. Usher plays the son. All three embark on a mission that’s laced with dirty politics, Islamophobia, and highflying action in efforts to solve a seemingly homicidal death.

The dynamics between all three are hilarious and dotted with lessons learned from past paternal influences. On a recent sunny Friday afternoon at Harlem's Red Rooster, the trio shared some of the traditions and virtues the paternal figures in real life have taught them. Most of the influence passed down to them was centered on working hard.

“People say to me, ‘Why do you work so much?’” Jackson said. “Well, all the grown people went to work every day when I got up. I figured that’s what we’re supposed to be doing—get up, pay a bill, and take care of everything that’s supposed to be taken care of.”

“For my family, it was cleanliness and masculinity,” Usher added. “The guys in my family were always well put together, very responsible especially my dad.”

In spite of the SHAFT men's power, the film's story wouldn’t be what it is without Regina Hall and Alexandra Shipp’s characters. They both play strong women caught in the middle of the mayhem created by the men they care about. Both are conscious of the power they exhibit as black women off and on screen, yet are aware of the dichotomy of how that strength is perceived in the world.

“It’s very interesting because I think a lot of times as powerful black women we are seen as angry black women,” Shipp says. “So it’s hard to have that voice and that opinion because a lot of times when we voice it; it becomes a negative rather than a positive. In order to hold that power, it has to be poised. It has to be with grace, I think there is strength in a strong but graceful black woman.”

“People have an idea of what strength is and how you do it and sometimes it’s the subtleties,” Regina adds. “Sometimes our influence is so powerful and it doesn’t always have to be loud I think a lot of times how we navigate is with conviction and patience.”

VIBE chatted with the cast of SHAFT about holding power, their red flags when it comes to dating, and why the SHAFT legacy continues to live on. Watch the interviews below.

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Sony Music

Meet Zhavia, The Musician Who Refuses To Be Boxed In

If you haven’t heard of Zhavia before, that will likely change very, very soon.

The 18-year-old Columbia Records signee is readying her first major EP 17, which is scheduled for June 14. A native of the Golden State, Zhavia catapulted to national consciousness after making it to the top four of the inaugural season of FOX’s singing competition, The Four, which features Diddy and DJ Khaled as judges. Since then, she continues to rise and tantalize audiences with her powerful, chill-inducing vocals.

The singer-songwriter—who tells VIBE she’s hopeful that her forthcoming EP will be “inspiring” to her ever-growing fanbase—dropped the project’s latest single “17” on May 31. Produced by hip-hop hitmaker Hit-Boy and co-written by RØMANS, Zhavia explains that the retrospective song is more personal than her previously-released tracks, such as the trap-tickled “100 Ways” and “Candlelight,” the stand-out single that showcases the vocal prowess of the petite blonde ingenue.

"’17’ is a song that I wrote about my life story, and how I got to where I am right now,” she says. The track details hardships such as a lack of resources to thrive in her childhood home and staying in a motel in order to accomplish her musical goals. “I just wanted it to be something that [fans] can relate to, whatever it is that they're going through.”

“I saw it in my dreams, I knew that life would change for me,” she croons on the new single. “This is reality, look at me now.”

Zhavia’s humble beginnings start in Norwalk, Calif., as a daughter of two musicians who introduced her to numerous genres. In fact, her mother was a member of a metal band called Xenoterra, and Zhavia’s impressively-versatile vocal range could be attributed to this Chex Mix bag of sonic stylings.

“From doo-wop to punk to R&B, metal, rock...” she says, listing of the types of music she was brought up on, which helped her in honing a unique style. Her own tunes feature an R&B and hip-hop flair and sprinkles touches of other genres throughout, in order for her to remain true to her roots.

“I feel like for the most part, [my music will] always have that R&B feel to it, but I'm always gonna have a lot of different vibes for people to pick and choose what they like,” she explains.

Zhavia's urban-tinged musical affinity was palpable during her time on The Four, where she put her spin on hits such as French Montana and Swae Lee’s “Unforgettable” and Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly.” Although she was unanimously selected by the show’s four celebrity judges to advance after a stellar first-round performance of Khalid’s “Location,” she admits she initially wasn’t planning to compete.

“When I was younger, I had wanted to go on a [singing] show, but I had made up my mind. ‘I'm gonna try to do it myself,’” she chuckles. “But, the people that were having auditions, they happened to be at the studio that I was recording at when I was making my own songs. My manager told me, 'Just go sing for them.'”

After showing off her impressive pipes, she was convinced to join the show, and was further influenced to compete after discovering that The Four appeared to focus on R&B and hip-hop-leaning artists.

“I was like, 'Okay, that sounds like me, they'll probably accept the style of music that I do,'” she continues. “I feel like on other singing shows, it's a little more pop, or towards the pop genre. Also, the panel that they had [DJ Khaled, Diddy, Meghan Trainor and Charlie Walk] seemed really relevant, and I could tell it was legit. I figured I'd just try it out, and it led me to where I am now.”

Since placing fourth on the show, Zhavia has proven that her star power was built to last longer than 15 minutes. Other than her forthcoming EP’s release, her gifts have found her among the company of some big names. She can be heard on the soundtrack for Deadpool 2 in the song “Welcome To The Party” with Diplo, French Montana and Lil Pump. Recently, moviegoers were treated to her rendition of the Disney classic “A Whole New World” with Zayn Malik, for the live-action version of Aladdin, which plays during the film’s end credits.

“I think it's been amazing, and it's definitely a lot of exposure that comes in a unique way,” she says of working on big projects with even bigger industry names. She continues by stating that she’s had a blast “putting her own twist” on songs she didn’t pen and doing material “totally different from what [she] would normally do.”

The pressures of Hollywood and the entertainment industry could be difficult on anyone, however, young stars under the U.S. legal age in the limelight may find themselves succumbing to various pressures, temptations and burnout. For Zhavia, she makes sure to keep a level head and a positive attitude in order to persevere in the industry as she matures.

“I feel like it's not that hard to stay focused, because I've wanted to do this my whole life,” she says affirmatively. “It's what I live for. For me, one of my number one priorities besides my family is music. I don't really go out, I don't party, I don't do none of that. I just work! [Laughs] I think for me, it's just focusing on myself and what I wanna do, and what I wanna get done.” She’s also hoping to keep surprising people throughout her career by coming up with genre-bending songs that show off her style, personality and abilities. Let her do her, and watch her as she goes.

“I'm not gonna be put in a box to do just one type of music or one style of song,” Zhavia affirms. “I don't want people to get used to one thing, you know? That's kind of a hard thing to express to the world. I feel like it comes with me coming up with more music, and to keep creating music for people to listen to and get to know me.”

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