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July 16, 2019

ALLAN WERNICK: Inside 21 Savage’s immigration fight

February 10, 2019
In this May 20, 2018, file photo, 21 Savage arrives at the Billboard Music Awards. (Jordan Strauss / Invision)

The arrest of hip hop star 21 Savage by Immigration and Customs Enforcement stunned his fans. Thought to have been born in Atlanta, he is in fact a citizen of the United Kingdom. He came here on a temporary (nonimmigrant) visa then stayed longer than the law allows. Can he stave off deportation? Maybe. Here are the answers to some questions in the 21 Savage case.

Q. Reports are that 21 Savage was convicted of a drug-related crime, but that his record was expunged or vacated. Can he still be deported for his crime?

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A. Maybe. Savage’s immigration lawyers claim he has no convictions. ICE claims he is guilty of a drug-related offense. One of his criminal defense lawyers says he had a conviction, but the lawyer got it expunged under Georgia law.

According to New York Legal Aid Society Supervising Attorney Ward Oliver, a 1996 law made it hard to claim that a state expungement statute eliminates a conviction for immigration purposes. “Since 1996 virtually every court that has considered the issue has upheld deportation based convictions that were later expunged under State rehabilitative statutes” Oliver said.

Yesterday (Saturday) his immigration lawyer claimed that his conviction was “vacated.” Sometimes, but not always, vacating a conviction eliminates it for immigration purposes. For vacating the conviction to help, Savage would need to prove that a judge vacated the conviction because of a legal defect in the judgement against him.

Q. 21 Savage’s lawyers say he has applied for a U visa. What kind of visa is that, and does it protect him from deportation?

A. A U visa is available to crime victims who are cooperating with law enforcement. Almost all drug convictions make an applicant ineligible for U status, but Savage may qualify for an “inadmissibility” waiver. ICE sometimes defers deportation for a person with a chance of getting U status, but that’s up to the agency’s discretion.

Q. What defenses might 21 Savage have to deportation?

A. Having been here for at least 10 years, with U.S. citizen children, he may qualify for a humanitarian defense to deportation called “Cancellation of Removal.” However, that defense won’t work if an immigration judge finds that he was convicted of a drug-related crime. Alternatively, Savage may challenge his deportation on the grounds that ICE is trying to deport him because of his political stands.

Q. Why won’t ICE release Savage 21 on bond?

A. Whether Savage qualifies for bond depends on his criminal record. Individuals convicted of crimes considered “aggravated felonies” do not qualify for immigration bond. Most other individuals do.

Q. How can Savage’s fans help him?

A. Savage’s fans can demand that Georgia governor Brian Kemp grant him an unconditional pardon. A pardon might aid his deportation defense. Also, fans can ask President Trump’s Department of Justice to let him stay on humanitarian grounds.

Allan Wernick is an attorney and director of the City University of New York’s Citizenship Now! project. Send questions and comments to Allan Wernick, New York Daily News, 7th Fl., 4 New York Plaza, New York, N.Y., 10004 or email to [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @awernick.

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