During most of my high school career, my family, was homeless. No one knew, not even the teachers, because my mother kept us well-groomed, and our homelessness was not the homelessness most people know. We were never without a roof over our heads, staying with generous family and friends, but never knowing when we would wear out our welcome.
Our longest stretch with a loved one began when I started my senior year. We stayed with him in a house that had more than ample space for us for more than seven months. Though our host, a friend of my mothers for as long as I’ve been alive, was nothing but welcoming, never making us feel like we were a burden to him or intruding in his personal space, the feeling that this was not really “home” was always there.
I made sure to always dress decently, even on Saturday mornings when I was only heading to the kitchen for a bowl of cereal. I always kept my feet on the floor when sitting in the living room, too mindful that this was not my home to comfortably put my feet on the couch. I often ignored the urge to pee at night because I did not want to wake my mother’s friend tiptoeing to the bathroom at 2 AM.
That feeling of living in a place but always remembering that as long as you’ve been there, and for whatever foundations you’ve laid, you will never have a true claim to it is familiar to most Black people living in America. Whether born here, the descendant a dozen generations before, six or more whose hands paved the roads we walk, or the child of recent immigrants, this country has a way of always reminding us that neither permanent residency nor citizenship make this our home. America, at best, tolerates Black people.
This weekend’s arrest and detainment of 21 Savage by Immigration and Customs Enforcement is harsh reminder of that fact. An ICE spokesperson reported that the Atlanta-based rapper’s arrest was part of a “targeted sting” and that Savage “has been placed into removal proceedings before the federal immigration courts.” The rapper, real name Shayaabin Abraham-Joseph, reportedly entered the U.S. in 2005, when he was “still a minor,” on a non-immigration visa which expired in 2006.
Now I’m hardcore fan, but any Black person who has ever heard Savage speak or listened to any of his music can tell you he is Atlanta to the core. Spending most of his life and all of his adult life in that city, it’s where he’s from and where he belongs. I can’t imagine why this man would be such a high priority for ICE that he would be the subject of a sting operation, but I know that New York City has entire neighborhoods where thousands of undocumented white immigrants from Italy, Ireland and other European countries have lived for decades, and ICE keeps missing them. That is no endorsement of ICE’s terrorist mission and method of operation, but rather an indictment of how Black and brown people are always the intended targets of immigration policy.
Since Trump’s election, the spotlight has been on ICE as we’ve witnessed hoards of brown undocumented immigrants rounded up and placed in concentration camps where they are routinely subject to human rights abuses white America pretends are unAmerican. Yet, for as righteous as the condemnation of that agency, this administration and much of white America’s racist, xenophobic anti-immigrant sentiment is, black immigrants have been all but forgotten, ignored for the the more palatable immigrants of color who are not marked by the blackness that designates them aliens everywhere, unable to truly call any place on earth home.
Nearly 50 years ago, Haitian immigrants, the pejoratively named “boat people, who began arriving to America in droves in 1972 fleeing the harsh dictatorship of “Baby Doc” Duvalier, were labeled “economic migrants,” denied asylum and placed in “hastily-assembled network of detention centers, jails and prisons.” Haitian immigration did not subside. I remember vividly in the 90s, during the Clinton presidency, seeing Haitians packed on homemade rafts floating at sea. I also remember hearing horror stories of how those black immigrants, asylum seekers, were treated, denied not only the asylum they risked their lives in search of but the human rights which should require no policy to guarantee.
But somehow, though the media coverage was frequent enough, black immigrants like those Haitians are never included in the discussion of this country’s abhorrent immigration policy. Brown people of color are ICE’s only victims if we are to believe. Never mind that black people exist in all of the Latin hot spots mot people think of when they think of immigrants. It stands to reason that in a country still remiss to contend with and make amends for the horror of the chattel slavery it’s infamous for, and unwilling to take accountability for the structural racism that persists in the afterlife of that slavery, the victims of that slavery would not even be afforded inclusion as victims of a the brutal henchman of a white supremacist regime charged solely with dehumanizing and torturing those foolish enough to seek the “better life” America propagandizes.
Black people are priority on ICE’s radar. Make no mistake, any agency charged with enforcing the will of this racist regime has the de facto mandate to visit all of the violent, exploitive, inhumane tools in its arsenal on us. And even those born to parents who were born to parents who were born to parents who were born to parents whose grandparents were born here are not exempt from their unethical and immoral reach. A Black man born in Philadelphia who has lived in this country all of his life was detained for three weeks at the direction of ICE, having his repeated pleas for those with the authority to do so to review his legal birth certificate and identify their error ignored as he was tortured and tormented with promises he would be deported to Jamaica, a country to which he has no ties.
They are always coming for us.
ICE’s unchecked authority is akin to the totalitarian regimes of governments to the east that this country purports to detest. Let 21 Savage’s arrest serve as a reminder that Black people are never exempt from government terrorism. We are always the intended targets. And we are never Americans.