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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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Mark Barboy

Interview: Suave House Founder Tony Draper Links With Celebs Like 2 Chainz, G Herbo and Nick Cannon To Feed Their Cities

The harrowing COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately disrupted Black communities across the United States with cities like Chicago being among the hardest hit. Throughout the year, artists from the city have stepped up and held socially distanced food drives and PPE donations across the city’s South and West sides. With his deep ties to Chicago since the early 90s, Suave House Records founder/entrepreneur Tony Draper, alongside NBA veteran Ricky Davis, made the Chi’ their next stop as part of the nationwide Feed Your City Challenge this past October 17th at the Pullman Park Community Center.

The chilly, yet bright and sunny Saturday saw hundreds of people drive through the parking lot of the complex, receiving groceries from the many volunteers, gathered from across the city. Masked up with PPE in the trenches with the civilians were local natives and celebrity supporters like Chitown’s Grammy winning producer/music executive No ID, rap star G-Herbo, new rapper Queen Key, NBA star Jabari Parker to media/music entertainer Nick Cannon. Draper and Davis were handing off items and loading boxes of farm-fresh produce and meats in the trunk of cars, and offloading the 95,000 pounds of food to feed 7,000 residents. While they were not in attendance, Common with Jhene Aiko and Social Justice Collective donated funds for the free groceries.

“You can’t lead the people until you feed the people. We’re out here in the community in a real way. People always talk about what’s going on in Chicago and these are the things going on in Chicago. Positive things for the community during a time like this. People coming together and it’s a wonderful event,” said Cannon.

For Draper, bringing the Feed Your City Challenge to Chicago and being able to pull it off successfully was crucial because October 17th, marks the 24th anniversary of the death of one of Chi’s most influential DJs, Rapmaster Pinkhouse, who passed away in 1996. “It feels like myself and my partner [Ricky] Davis coming to Chicago and partnering with Common, No ID, Jhene Aiko, Nick Cannon, G-Herbo, Jay Allen, [local FM radio] Power 92 and Pat Edwards was a sign from God that it’s meant to happen on this day. Even though Pinkhouse is gone, he’s still influencing the south side of Chicago and he’s still sending us blessings. We had to pull it off, we had to,” Draper said with conviction. 

Meanwhile, Power 92.3’s DJ Pharris, DJ Nehpets, DJ Commando, DJ Amaris and Hot Rod were on the 1s and 2s while Parker, Hot Rod, G-Herbo, and community activists Joey G and Nico Naismith played basketball with the kids. A nonprofit Hoop Bus was set up with a small hoop with Black Lives Matter symbols and the names of victims who were killed by police officers. 

G-Herbo, who has been volunteering his time to the kids of Chicago throughout 2020 says that events like this are important to build and strengthen Black unity across the city. “It’s beyond just being able to feed and provide, it’s allowing people to feel unity in the city. This is the city coming together and a lot of important and powerful people coming from the city, all walks of life coming together for a positive reason and that’s what it’s all about.” When asked if this event defied the stigma of Chicagoans not being unified, Herbo exclaimed, “Absolutely! We unified right now and it’s only gon’ get better, so we’re just trying to lead by example and make this normal. This is not just an event, this gotta be the normal for guys like myself and for the city.”

And the people who showed up to receive their free groceries were more than appreciative. Takara, a mother from the Southside of Chicago says that while she found out about the food drive at the last minute,“It’s a lot of food out here, a lot of good people out here and it’s something that we need. Events like this are very necessary and it’s filling the need for families who can’t feed their children during these times. I wish I could have volunteered and done something more, but we need this.”

In a one-on-one with VIBE, the legendary Tony Draper talks about his connections to Chicago, the importance and impact of the Feed Your City Challenge, the role celebrities play in activism, and more. 

VIBE: Earlier you shared that Oct. 17th was also the day that Rapmaster Pinkhouse passed away. For the younger readers who might not know who Rapmaster Pinkhouse is, could you share who he was and why he was so important to Chicago?

Draper: For young people that don't understand how music was heard back then, there was no social media [in the early 90s], there was no Instagram, so you had to get your record to the hottest person in the city. That person had to make a decision about whether it was good or not. And if that person touched your record in Chicago, that person would spread, it was automatic. That’s what happened to a young Tony Draper with 8Ball & MJG’s first albums. He put his hands around it and he exposed it to the Chicago market. Every time I think about Chicago, I always think about Pinkhouse. Pinkhouse was the main reason why I even came to Chicago.

Talk about that. What was Chicago like for you when you first came here?

Coming to Chicago was a very interesting moment for me because when I came, I had my hat cocked a certain type of way and I didn’t know the rules and regulations. And he told me, “Tony, man you gotta keep that hat straight (laughs). And I kept it straight ever since. So, for me, doing my journey as a young Black man from the inner city, raised by a single parent, establishing Suave House at 16 years old, seeing what I went through to establish [the company], and make it a force to be reckoned with. That was an accomplishment, but also I wanted to touch people I knew understood the music and understood where I was coming from and the importance of a young Black man that was a true, independent CEO and giving me the avenue to get my music heard. I’m from Memphis, raised in Houston, but Chicago is Suave House’s biggest market to this date. They supported everything Suave House did and I wanted to bless them [with the Feed Your City Challenge], the same way they blessed me.

With the conversation within the music business revolving around Black Lives Matter and supporting Black communities, what do you think it’ll take to get many of these CEO and executives from the major labels to support these communities like what you and many of the artists have been doing across the country?

I think they have to be involved with people they’re not comfortable with. Stop giving money to these organizations you think is giving the money to Black people, because they’re not. Nobody is holding these organizations accountable. Do business with somebody that has their finger on the pulse. A person that you know is in the music business that has been very successful in the business. Like right now, the Feed Your City Challenge, we’re in our ninth city. We’ve had eight of the top music artists host these cities without funding from the parent companies. [The artists] are giving the money themselves. Jhene Aiko gave money herself. Nick Cannon, himself. Rick Ross, 2 Chainz…Pee from Quality Control. 

Pee was on vacation in Mexico and he took a private jet back to Atlanta just to attend Feed Your City in Atlanta. He didn’t have to do that, but he did because he cares about where he’s from. He cares about the area. He wants to take [talent] from the area, but he also wants to give back to that community. See, white people want to come and exploit your community, but don’t want to build a library over there, never build a basketball court, never build anything. When an artist is dead, they say ahhh aahh ummm. If you wanted to demonstrate good character, you would have said, ‘I made a lot of money off that artist. Let me do something for that community as a token of appreciation for birthing that particular artist.’

I don’t think we’ve ever seen that before.

And you’ll never see it unless I do it and I am going to do it. That’s why I’m in Chicago. I’m going to every city that has blessed me and fed my family because every time I feed myself, I feed my family, my loved ones, it comes from my fans. My fans gave me the opportunity by buying my records. I had a dream, I had a drive, but without the opportunity, you might not have heard of Tony Draper. So, I’m always appreciative of people that have helped me, that’s why I want to help them. I’m in the best place I could ever be in my life. I’m 49 years old, I’m successful, I’m good. Bro, you want to know what makes me happy? Giving to somebody else. There’s another star out there that’s hoping and praying that they could get an opportunity and if I could give them that opportunity, I’ll give it to them. I don’t relish in the attention; I relish in the accomplishment. Let me help somebody. And if I help them and they become successful, they don’t owe me a quarter. I won’t sign them to a management deal or nothing. I just want you to acknowledge it and pass it on. See, we got to learn how to pass it on.

With the timing of this event brought on by the pandemic, how do you feel about it all?

I think it was God’s mission. With COVID that’s really unfortunate, a lot of people lost their lives during this pandemic. A lot of people have lost their jobs, their homes, their properties. My heart goes out to them. But if me and Ricky Davis can put a smile on a mother’s face, a father’s face and feed their children, that’s all I need. I remember me and my mother going to churches and food banks, walking with free government cheese, powdered eggs and we was happy. We were so happy, smiling and grateful. I think without that, I don’t think we would have made it to the following week. So, I’m always thankful for everything God blessed me with. I don’t think I’m special. I think that I had a plan and I stuck to my plan and made it happen.

Suave House has had a lot of artists who have always been outspoken about social and political issues, [similar to like an] Ice Cube recently. Considering that, and what you’re doing with these artists for the Feed Your City Challenge, do you think that the role of the celebrity today is to get in front of these issues or to fall back and support the people who're already doing the work?

I think it’s a choice. For me, I’m not a city official, I’m not a politician. I’m more comfortable with doing and getting my hands dirty on the ground. If I was in Chicago building houses for people, I would actually be there. I wouldn’t [just] send no money or send a crew there. I would be there. That’s how I feel blessed. I feel blessed by actually talking to the people and them seeing me out there distributing groceries. I feel good when a person drives up in their car and they pop their trunk and say ‘Draper?! You putting groceries in my car?!’ And they may be happy about ‘Space Age Pimpin’’ or ‘I’m So Tired of Ballin’’ or whatever, but just the mere fact that they were happy about me putting groceries in their car meant more to me than anything else. I think it’s a choice you make as an individual.

For a lot of people, some celebrities end up causing harm because their celebrity and actions might overshadow the actual issue.

You know what though? Without you being a celebrity, you might not be heard. So why not use that platform to be heard? I think LeBron James is phenomenal. I think Ice Cube is phenomenal. You don’t have to agree with him, but you have to respect him for speaking his mind and trying to get something for Black people. Nobody else did it! Nobody else took the initiative to write a Black America contract and present it to both [Biden and Trump] camps. So, I think that was a phenomenal move, whether I agree with it or not, it was still a phenomenal move. We got to stop with all this goddamn talking and do some action.

Draper and Davis’s Feed Your City Challenge will be arriving in Compton, California as their next stop on November 21.

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T.I.

Interview: T.I. Talks Activism, Verzuz Battle, And His Desire To Produce A Biopic On His Life Before Fame

Although Tip "T.I." Harris has earned some very respectable stripes as an emcee for his successful rap career, the self-proclaimed “King of the South” moniker really began to take true form once he stepped into his community activism calling. He’s acted in blockbuster films opposite Denzel Washington, Paul Rudd and Kevin Hart, but his willingness to speak truth to power has shown an unwavering commitment to being on the good side of history, as opposed to choosing silence to secure a spot on the good side of Hollywood.

During this recent conversation, Tip talks about his upcoming Verzuz battle with Jeezy, politics, the Trap Music Museum, and his desire to make his TV/film directorial debut.

Be sure to check out his newest album, L.I.B.R.A available on all streaming platforms.

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Ziggy Marley's First Time Voting In America

No more long talking from politicians. Today, the people have their say at the ballot box. Judging by the number of voters who showed up early this year, the 2020 election is going to smash all records for voter participation. With a deadly pandemic, wildfires, floods, economic pressure, and a struggle for survival playing out from the tweets to the streets, the stakes have never been higher.

If you're reading this right now and you haven't voted yet, it's not too late. Get up get out and let your voice be heard. As Samantha Smith recently discussed on her IG Live, this year's election is too important to sit out.

Snoop Dogg will be voting for the first time this year—and he's not the only one. Ziggy Marley voted for the first time this year also and documented the process on social media. "I decided to vote and I wondered to myself why," Ziggy wrote on his IG. "Then I thought about those who came before, the price they paid. In part, I am voting in honor of them and to honor them, to not belittle their many sacrifices and struggles with my high jaded righteousness and indifference. Many brothers and sisters from numerous backgrounds and origins marched, bled, and died to give people like me basic rights in 🇺🇸 , the right to be treated like a human being, the right to vote."

As the eldest son of the Robert Nesta Marley aka the King of Reggae, Ziggy is part of a mighty musical legacy, but his father is more than a musical legend.  The new film Freedom Fighter—part of the 75th anniversary series "Bob Marley Legacy"—examines Marley as a symbol of human rights with a voice more powerful than any politician.

Ziggy has continued his father's musical mission as a solo artist and part of the Grammy-winning family group Melody Makers. His 2018 album, Rebellion Rises opens with a song entitled "See Them Fake Leaders," leaving no doubt about his views on the institutions of government. Still, Ziggy remains engaged in the political process, doing his part and encouraging others to do the same.

"Imagine if Martin Luther King Jr, John Lewis, and others thought, 'Voting rights? Civil rights? Who cares? What difference will it make?'" Ziggy wrote on IG. "Just imagine what the world would have looked like now if not for their sacrifices. Go ahead, imagine it. Can you see it? Well, what do you think?"

"To be clear voting is not the end-all," Ziggy Marley added. "It is a small piece of a puzzle and just one of the tools in our toolbox that we must use as part of a larger effort to bring positive beneficial changes for all people. The work must continue at maximum effort after elections regardless of the outcome." Ziggy emphasized that he was not voting for a party or a person for an idea. "Even though we have differences we can be better human beings, more united human beings, more loving human beings, equal human beings, just human beings. The politics will come and go left right and center but still through it all the humanity that we must show to each other is not negotiable."

Ziggy voted by mail this year, but for those of you standing in line today to exercise your right and let your voices be heard, Ziggy curated a special playlist for Tidal's "Hold The Line" campaign. Music to vote by—from Ziggy and Bob to Fela and James Brown, not to mention Public Enemy and Rage Against The Machine.

Ziggy Marley’s new album, More Family Time, is out now on all music streaming platforms.

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