Does Not Compute: Why Conservative Media is Ignoring the Recent Arrest of 21 Savage

Does Not Compute: Why Conservative Media is Ignoring the Recent Arrest of 21 Savage

Pop quiz: what image do you have in your head when you think of an undocumented immigrant?

If you’re a conservative in America, you most likely have the image of a Latino gang member, crossing the southern border with a bound-up woman and child in toe. This immigrant likely has a bag full of drugs, the contents of which he intends to distribute to disrupt good, decent, hard-working communities. This immigrant also probably is bringing disease, some sort of plague that he caught from one of the Middle Easterners in the caravan he was a part of. He is likely tatted up, with images of knives, guns, and whatever else passes for MS-13 identification this day and age. He comes to this country not for a better life for himself and his family but to wreak havoc on everyday Americans and their peaceful way of life. He is a threat and it’s up to us to stop him and those like him.

But what if I told you there was no such thing as a typical undocumented immigrant?

What if I told you that there exists an undocumented immigrant who came here from Europe of all places? Not crossing a river or desert but rather taking a commercial flight? What if I told you this undocumented immigrant didn’t grow up in a major metropolitan area with a huge immigrant population such as Los Angeles or New York but rather the outskirts of Atlanta? What if I told you this undocumented immigrant ended up connecting with some of the biggest producers and recording artists in the music business? What if I told you this undocumented immigrant sold millions of records and constantly performs to sold out areas throughout the United States? What if I told you this undocumented immigrant has a net worth of $21 million? And what if I told you this undocumented immigrant performed all his songs in his mother tongue of English?

Sheeya Bin-Abraham is this exact person.

Bin-Abraham (stage name 21 Savage) is a British-born hip-hop megastar whose recent arrest by ICE on an overstayed visa has sent shock waves through the hip-hop community. Yet his story has drawn zero attention from the conservative media. Not that they were particular fans by any means, but the fact that someone who is British can be undocumented would simply befuddle the MAGAverse beyond compare. After being repeatedly told that our southern border is being overrun by drug-peddling MS-13 gang members, conservative America would be completely flummoxed that someone who is both Black and British can also be equally undocumented. It’s almost as if in their minds there can be only one kind of undocumented immigrant. It’s why conservative media love to highlight whenever an undocumented immigrant commits a crime. It plays perfectly into their own demented worldview that brown people are scary and that the administration must do everything in its power to protect the rest of us from them.

Conservatives like to live in this bubble because for them the world is much easier to understand when its black and white. But immigration, like all things, is a complex issue where there exists multiple shades of gray. The situation of 21 Savage is not unique. In fact, statistics show that 40% of undocumented immigrants overstay their visas, including nearly 740,000 from October of 2016 to September of 2017. The country with the most visa overstays is not Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, or Honduras but is actually Canada. The United Kingdom ranks fourth. The numbers of undocumented immigrants from Mexico has been steadily declining and Asians now outpace Mexicans in terms of undocumented growth. Oddly enough, you never hear the talking heads on Fox News express concern about South Koreans coming through customs at our major international airports.

The reason immigrants overstay their visas are as complex as the immigrants themselves. Some get locked into their studies. Others find meaningful work with an opportunity for advancement. Others find a community that they simply cannot leave. Others still find love, a love worth staying in the country for. Regardless of the specific reason or reasons, one commonality all these immigrants share is that their life in the United States is significantly better than in their country of origin. For that reason, they are willing to live in the shadows, part of a permanent underclass in America that is just one random police stop away from having their world turned upside down. You don’t live with this constant level of uncertainty if you aren’t absolutely sure that you are in the best place for you and your family.

If the GOP was serious about immigration reform, they would take a long, hard look at our visa process. But they’re not serious about it and they never have been. They’d much rather use the stereotype of the hordes of scary drug-peddling MS-13 gang members careening toward our southern border at record speeds than have a serious discussion about how and why we have an undocumented British rap star in our midst. Because a Black rapper from Atlanta who came here legally is a much harder situation to explain to their base than a vicious caravan pouring into our country from Mexico. By stereotyping the 11 million undocumented immigrants into one grotesque caricature, the GOP can easily manipulate what their base sees and hears when it comes to how this populated in presented in the media. Naturally when someone like 21 Savage doesn’t fit this narrative, conservative media simply chooses to ignore this story and instead goes back to the red meat that their base craves.

You won’t find the story about 21 Savage on Fox News or Breitbart because it is too real. It’s too emblematic of the wider issue of undocumented immigration: how and why people from all over the world feel so trapped in their home countries that they risk everything to come to the United States, willingly violating our immigration laws. That’s a difficult policy discussion to be had and one that requires the full participation of both political parties. But Republicans don’t want to have this discussion. They don’t want to talk about undocumented Britons or Canadians or South Koreans. Those discussions are complex and involve delving deep into the historical causes and effects of immigration as well as American imperialism. Approaching immigration from that perspective would cause Republicans to have to admit that undocumented immigration is both caused by and a productive of intentional American public policy. Telling conservatives that their very own party helped create the problems of undocumented immigration is something that conservative media is simply unwilling to do.

Because of all this, the news of 21 Savage won’t make its way onto the front pages anytime soon.



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