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Rapper, songwriter, and record producer 21 Savage was detained by ICE last month in Atlanta, Georgia, the city he has called home since he was seven years old. Although he was released from immigration detention, he still faces the possibility of deportation. While he was detained, he said he was less concerned about being in jail than about “the possibility of me not being able to live in this country no more that I’ve been living in my whole life.” He felt anxiety about leaving his home and the things that make it home, like his favorite restaurant of twenty years.

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21 Savage may be described as a “1.5 generation” immigrant. Historian Stephanie M. Huezo describes the concept, noting that these are immigrants who came to the United States as children and grew up “culturally as citizens of the United States.” Sociologists refer to them as the 1.5 generation because, although they are technically first-generation immigrants, their life experiences are more similar to the children of immigrants because they were socialized in the United States and attended U.S. schools as children and teenagers. Members of the 1.5 generation thus feel a strong “sense of belonging” in the United States “regardless of their legal status.”

21 Savage’s deportation battle highlights an important aspect of contemporary deportation policy that is often overlooked. Although political debates about deportation often focus on the merits of “sending people home,” many of the people the United States deports are long-term residents who have lived here for decades. Particularly for people like 21 Savage who came to the U.S. as children, the possibility of being deported feels more like being exiled from one’s homeland than being “returned” home.

In Ines Hasselberg’s open access book Enduring Uncertainty, she describes the increase in deportations of long-term residents of the United States and the United Kingdom. According to Hasselberg, long-term residents who face deportation demonstrate “the differences between lived and legal definitions of citizenship, belonging and justice.” She notes that many authors use the term “exile” “to resist this idea that someone has been deported to their home as opposed to being forced to leave it.”

Immigration law professor Beth C. Caldwell’s new book Deported Americans: Life after Deportation to Mexico documents the experiences of people like 21 Savage who identify as American, grew up culturally American, and speak English with American accents. Many of the deportees interviewed in the book report that they would prefer to be in prison in the United States than to be exiled from their homeland, because at least in prison, deportees have an easier time maintaining contact with their families and friends.

21 Savage has a good chance of prevailing in his immigration case, given his resources and high profile. But hundreds of thousands of long-term residents like him have been deported from the U.S. in recent years, and the trend shows no signs of stopping.


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Chiricú Journal: Latina/o Literatures, Arts, and Cultures, Vol. 1, No. 2, The Politics of Language (Spring 2017), pp. 237-239
Indiana University Press
Enduring Uncertainty: Deportation, Punishment and Everyday Life, 2016, pp. 23-40 (18 pages)
Berghahn Books