Why 21 Savage’s Arrest Concerns Me (and why it should concern you too)

Last week, Atlanta-based rapper, Shéyaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, more commonly known as 21 Savage, was arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) in Atlanta. Just days before, he performed his new hit entitled, “A Lot,” from his new album, i am > i was, on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. He performed a rendition of the song that included the lyrics, “Been through some things so I can’t imagine my kids stuck at the border/ Flint still need water/ People was innocent, couldn’t get lawyers.” After the arrest, ICE called it a “…targeted operation with federal and local law enforcement partners…”

In an official statement, 21 Savage’s legal team said, “Many have speculated as to possible ulterior motives for his arrest and detention, including that he released music five days prior to his arrest by ICE, which included new lyrics condemning the behavior or immigration officials for their detention of children at the border.”

21 Savage’s arrest is frightening and unsettling, especially for me as an undocumented person (albeit, currently protected by the DACA program). He continues to be held in immigration custody even as his attorneys argue that there is no legal basis for him to remain in detention. He should be released from detention immediately to allow him the opportunity to strategize with his legal team from outside the walls of Irwin Detention Center in Georgia and fight his deportation.

The message that the federal government is sending to the undocumented community with his arrest is that, no matter what kind of successful career you build for yourself, no matter what accolades you’ve been awarded, no matter the philanthropy you’ve committed to your community, and no matter how much respect and admiration you’ve garnered from those around you, if you’re in the country without the right papers to prove you belong, you don’t deserve to stay here. 21 Savage was scheduled to perform at the Grammy Awards this year on stage with Post Malone, but that is quickly seeming like a far-out possibility.


But here’s the thing: Though we can only speculate as to why ICE decided to arrest 21 Savage just days after he released lyrics publicly condemning the actions of federal immigration officials, his arrest and detention alone are enough to say that successful immigrants in our country are not welcomed. You can love his music or hate his music, but the bottom line is that if you’re okay with ICE continuing to hold him, you are complicit in a system that continues to denigrate and belittle black and brown bodies. If ICE is successful in deporting 21 Savage, a successful music artist who has made significant contributions to the industry and to his community, what does that mean for the undocumented folks who don’t have the same kind of recognition and resources that he does? What does it mean for the mother, who barely makes enough money to put food on the table for her children, who gets arrested on the way to work for driving without a license?

Recently, my good friend, Eduardo Samaniego, whom I met almost ten years ago, was forced out of the country that he has loved since his arrival at the age of 16. We fought together and organized together. He was awarded a full scholarship to attend Hampshire College in Massachusetts and he served a student member of their Board of Trustees. In October, he was arrested after a dispute involving a $27 cab fare. After weeks in immigration detention and being held in sub-human conditions, he made the decision to accept “Voluntary Departure” from an Immigration Judge in Atlanta.

Undocumented people are everywhere. I’m one of them. How many more good people have to get arrested and subjected to the inhumane conditions in ICE detention before our Congress stands up and passes a permanent solution for people like me? I challenge all of you to use 21 Savage’s arrest as an opportunity to understand that our immigration system is broken. We must continue to press our elected officials to allow people the opportunity to better their communities and to maximize their human potential.

RP 2/9/2019


The author is an employee of Kuck Baxter Immigration, LLC, the firm that represents 21 Savage and Eduardo Samaniego. These thoughts are his alone and are not a representation of the firm’s viewpoint or an official statement from the firm.


Featured Photo by Nitish Meena on Unsplash

Rap Concert Photo by Brandon Erlinger-Ford on Unsplash


Ten Quick Tips for being a Good Ally to “Dreamers”

So you’ve been watching the news and, every day, you see the topic of immigration being debated on the airwaves and in the hallowed halls of Congress. Maybe you’ve had a conversation about it with your friends or family. Maybe your friend, your girlfriend, your boyfriend’s uncle, or your neighbor is one of these people who have come to be known as “Dreamers,” young people who were brought into the United States when they were very young and are currently without legal status—because they were brought in illegally or they overstayed their lawful welcome in this country.

It breaks your heart. How could someone who’s lived their entire life in the United States not have legal status? How is it that he or she still faces the threat of deportation to a country he or she left decades ago? You’re lucky enough to be a citizen of the United States – you were born here or were able to earn your citizenship one way of the other. You’re wondering how you even approach the issue. You don’t like the fact that President Trump essentially wants to deport these young people if he doesn’t get his precious border wall. How do you talk to your friend, your girlfriend, your boyfriend’s uncle, or your neighbor? What can you do to help? Well, you’re in luck! I’m a dreamer and here’s my comprehensive guide to being a good “Ally” to “Dreamers.”

But, first—“Ally”: (noun | al-ly) One that is associated with another as a helper: a person or group that provides assistance and support : e.g. “She has proven to be a valuable ally in the fight for better working conditions.” (Source: Merriam-Webster Dictionary).

Keep that in mind as you continue reading. You are a helper. You provide assistance and support. If you’re not directly impacted, let those who are directly  impacted  take the lead. Let them dictate what it means to be a good ally. Let them craft the strategy for their movement and fall in line. If you don’t go to sleep every night wondering if you’ll be wrestled out of your home by ICE agents, let those that do set the agenda.


Photo by Raymond Partolan

#1: Don’t say “I promise, everything’s going to be alright.”

Don’t promise things you can’t deliver. Unless you suddenly became the President of the United States, the Senate Majority Leader, or the Speaker of the House overnight, just don’t. If you’ve never had to put together a “Family Preparedness Plan”, during which you have a tough conversation with your family about who’s going to take care of your 11 year old U.S. Citizen brother if the rest of his family gets deported, just don’t.

#2: Don’t say “Why don’t you just apply for citizenship?”

As dreamers, we get this question all the time. “Why don’t you just apply for citizenship? If you do this the right way, wouldn’t everything work itself out?”

Asking us this question is an insult to our intelligence and our work ethic. If a pathway to citizenship existed for us, don’t you think we would’ve taken it by now? Instead, get educated on our broken legal immigration system. To start, check out this cool video that explains how difficult it is to actually immigrate to the United States.

It’s not as easy as just taking a civics test and knowing how to speak English. But sadly, that’s what a lot of people believe. In reality, there are only four ways to legally immigrate to the United States: 1) Through your immediate family members (read: not cousins, uncles, grandparents—but spouses, parents, children (over the age of 21), and siblings); 2) Through an employer (…but you have to prove that you’re not displacing a U.S. worker by immigrating); 3) Proving that you have a well-founded fear of persecution in your home country (As a refugee or an asylee—this is often very subjective and takes years to process); 4) The Diversity Visa lottery (if you come from a country that has not historically sent very many immigrants to the U.S.).

Then, after you legally immigrate (getting your permanent residency, also known as a Green Card), in most cases, you have to wait five years to even apply for citizenship.

BOTTOM LINE: It’s not easy. Don’t make the mistake of making it seem like it is.

#3: Don’t criticize any strategy crafted by dreamers to better their own lives

You might be a Harvard Kennedy School of Government-educated policy wonk, but until you’ve been in the shoes of a dreamer who quite literally worries for his life and livelihood everyday, you have no right to criticize any tactic or strategy employed to bring about the change he wants to see.

Got a problem with the fact that some of us block streets, take over Senate offices, and call out your precious Democratic lawmakers? Think calling Members of Congress doesn’t actually do anything? That’s too bad, because that’s what we’re going to do to keep the pressure on our decision makers until they understand the urgency under which we’re fighting. We are fighting tooth and nail for the ability to stay in the only place we’ve called home and we will use any and all tactics that we think will bring us closer to that goal.

#4: Listen more than talk. Respect their story and their perspective.

Our entire lives, people have dictated who we can be, what we can do, who we can be with, and how to live our lives. The DREAM Act, a bill that would have provided a pathway to citizenship for dreamers, was introduced back in 2001. Since that moment, several iterations of it have been introduced and have failed in Congress. We dreamers have hoped and hoped and hoped until that hope gradually turned into cynicism. In 2010, the bill failed by a mere 6 votes in the U.S. Senate. Six democratic lawmakers effectively killed the bill. In 2013, the U.S. Senate passed the DREAM Act, but the House refused to bring it to the floor for a vote. I remember exactly where I was when these votes were being tallied and I remember the tears flowing down my face when these votes failed and the anger that I felt.

Imagine watching your life being debated on national television. Imagine listening to all these old white men talk about you and whether you deserve to stay in this country and feeling voiceless—like they can talk about you, but won’t invite you to the negotiating table to ask about what you need.

Listen to us. Many of us have been silent for years. But will be silent no longer. We will share our stories of struggle, desperation, and hopelessness until our decision makers begin to understand what we’ve been through. We deserve dignity and respect. Here is my story.

#5: Don’t pity us.  

We’re not helpless puppies running around the kitchen looking for scraps of food while our owners are gone. We are powerful, united, and a force to be reckoned with. We don’t need your pity. We don’t need you to tell us how terrible our situation is. We need your action. Save the breath you would’ve used to tell us “I’m so sorry you’re going through this,” and pick up the phone, call your Member of Congress, and give them a piece of your mind. Trust me—they’re listening. Next time, there’s a rally in your area around immigrant rights or protections for dreamers, show up. Don’t sit at home on your couch and wish you could be doing more. Just do more.


Photo by Raymond Partolan

#6: Don’t put us in the position of deciding whether we’d accept a solution that would protect us, but harm our families.

We are who we are because of our families. My parents brought me here to the United States from the Philippines when I was one. My father gave up his dreams of going to medical school so that he could provide the best life that he could for his wife and children. When he and my mother left the Philippines, they said goodbye to their family members, their friends, and their communities—possibly never to see them again. Three of my four grandparents have passed away. My parents quite literally never saw them again. My mother lost her eldest sister, someone she grew up with and looked up to. She never saw her again. My parents sacrificed so much so that my brothers and I could have a better life here. They are the original dreamers. Both of my parents are college-educated, brilliant, and graduated at the top of their classes. They have dedication and work ethic like none other. But now, because of our immigration system, my parents are relegated to jobs for which they are way overqualified. My father, a former physical therapist who helped his patients regain their mobility, now works in a warehouse moving boxes six days a week for very little pay. My mother, a trained paralegal, works in food service.

Their hands are worn from hard work and very little breaks. Right now, there are proposals in Congress that would protect people like me, but put people like my parents at greater risk of deportation. Don’t make us choose. It’s all of us, or none of us.

#7: Respect our time. Respect our struggle. Don’t speak for us.

This mainly goes out to the media and anyone who invites us to share our story before an audience. We are not available at a moment’s notice. We are not your token dreamers who are sure to make your event or your news story more interesting. If we agree to an interview with you or if we agree to speak at your event, we are making the conscious decision to do so because we think it provides some benefit to our movement. By educating those around us about our struggles, our broken system, and ways to get involved, we are bringing ourselves one step closer to our goal of passing a permanent legislative solution that would allow us to stay here legally. Keep that in mind when you invite us or ask us for an interview.

That said, for events, honorariums are appreciated. For interviews, come to us. Don’t make us drive across town to come to you. We’re trying to make it in this world just like everyone else. We’ve got jobs to work, classes to attend, and families to take care of. We will not drop everything to cater to your needs. Don’t mistakenly believe you are somehow our savior for giving us the opportunity to share our stories. We don’t need you to speak for us. We don’t need you to tell our stories. Pass the mic.

#8: Don’t ask us “Well, why don’t you just get married?”

No. Just no. One, it’s illegal to enter into a marriage for the sole purpose of procuring immigration benefits. Two, it’s not as simple as you think it is to get your permanent residency after you get married (e.g. If you don’t have a legal entry into the United States or you never had an immigrant petition filed for you before April 30, 2001, you will probably have to go through an expensive and complicated process that involves you having to leave the U.S. before you’re allowed to return). Three, and most importantly, no one should have to get married if they don’t want to. This is part of having self-determination—the ability to control your own life. I will get married if or when I meet the right person—the person with whom I want to spend the rest of my life. I will not get married because the government tells me I have to if I want to stay here.

#9: Recognize that dreamers come from all different places, in different shapes and sizes, and different colors.

You may have gone all this time thinking that dreamers and other undocumented immigrants are all Mexican or from some other country in Latin America, but please recognize that we come from all over the world. I, for one, am Filipino. I also have dreamer friends from Nigeria, Poland, Canada, and every place in between. Don’t assume a Latino you meet is undocumented and the Asian American you meet at the same time is not.

#10: Get involved in advocacy efforts to #ProtectDreamers

So you’ve made this far. You’ve spent the last ten minutes or so reading this lengthy piece. Now, you’re wondering how you can get involved. Great! Well, let me tell you!

  1. Call your Member of Congress and tell them that you need Congress to protect dreamers before hundreds of thousands are forced out of their jobs, have to quit school, and are deported to countries they can’t even remember. Visit this link. It makes it super easy: https://www.fwd.us/action/senate2021/
  2. After you get done calling YOUR Member of Congress, call other Members of Congress who could hear from you too. Follow organizations on social media that are actively doing the work and sign up for Action Alerts or Action Updates. Some examples are Asian Americans Advancing Justice, NAKASEC, FWD.us, and many, many others.
  3. Be on the lookout for rallies and other actions happening in your area and show up in numbers when they do. Bring your friends. Bring your family. Bring everyone.
  4. Get arrested for us. But first, read Tip #3 above again. Civil disobedience is a tried and tested tactic that dates back centuries. Lex iniusta non est lex. An unjust law is no law at all. As a U.S. Citizen, you have the privilege of being able to put your body and liberty on the line for people whose bodies and liberties are on the line every single day. Next time there is an action that involves civil disobedience, sign up.
  5. Donate to organizations that are spending countless hours researching policy proposals, lobbying Members of Congress, organizing the community, and providing legal support for dreamers. My personal favorite organization to support (since I firmly believe in their mission) is Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Atlanta. You can make a tax-deductible contribution here.
  6. Host an event on your campus calling attention to this issue and invite dreamers to share their stories. Be sure to involve them in every stage of the planning process.
  7. Have tough conversations with your friends and family about this issue and why it’s important to you. We have to change hearts and minds, one person at a time.

We are at a critical juncture in our movement. The clock is ticking. When the clock strikes midnight on March 6, 2018, over 1,400 DACA Recipients will lose their protections every single day from that point forward. Even today, over 122 DACA Recipients are losing their status every day. If you haven’t been involved up to this point, there is no better time than now. As always, shoot me an email at raymond@raymondpartolan.com and let me know what you think! Let’s stay in touch- follow me on Facebook, find me on Instagram (@RaymondPart) and Twitter (@RaymondPart).



My Thoughts on So-Called “Allies”

Since Trump’s decision to end the DACA program a week and a half ago, my phone, email, and social media have been blowing up with outpourings of love and support. I can honestly say that I have the best of friends, allies, and fellow undocumented movement leaders. I have had no less than two media interview requests a day since the announcement, from national broadcast media in the Philippines to a worldwide debut on Al-Jazeera English to an AJ+ video that garnered a half a million views, almost 3,000 shares, and over 4,700 Facebook reactions worldwide. Several years ago, I decided to go public with my own struggles as an undocumented immigrant in this country to put a human face on an issue that, oftentimes, is abstract if it does not directly affect you. Now, it makes me incredibly happy to know that the world knows what it’s like to be undocumented.

Now to my actual reason for this post: With all of the love and support, it is inevitable to have a fair share of people who don’t agree with our approach to this issue. I want to take a moment to address the reasoning for my own approach to the issue of Trump and his decision to end DACA. To preface, check out some of these exchanges I had recently with some of these people (their names are redacted to protect their identities).

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Anyone who knows me well enough knows that I’ve struggled with my sense of belonging in the Filipino community. Even though I was born in the Philippines, I’ve never truly felt “Filipino enough,” much like I’ve never felt “American enough.” After years of working in the organizing space within the Asian American community, I can honestly say that I’ve never encountered as much anti-immigrant sentiment and general opposition to the approach of undocumented movement leaders than within my own community. After all, according to a National Asian American Survey conducted during the 2016 Election, as many as 1 out of every 3 Filipino Americans voted for Trump. I walk into the many, many events the Filipino community hosts (and often emcee them), look around, and think to myself, “Wow! A third of these people probably voted for a man who would deport me in a heartbeat.” These are the same people that look at me and say, “Oh, Raymond. Just trust President Trump—he’s not going to deport you. We need more people like you.” I internally roll my eyes when I hear this.

Now, if you voted for Trump, I’m not saying you’re a bad person, but I question the truth and validity of your claims of being an ally to immigrants and refugees (and frankly every single historically marginalized group) in this country. Have people already forgotten his rhetoric on the campaign trail? Have people already forgotten about him mocking a reporter who was handicapped, how he bragged about “grabbing pussy,” and how he called out a whole country for sending rapists and murderers to the United States? Have people already forgotten about his failed attempts to ban Muslims from entering this country? Those who continue to support this man are complicit in his white supremacist agenda and I am often puzzled by how people of color can support him (READ: My fellow Filipino-Americans, HOW CAN YOU CONTINUE TO SUPPORT THIS MAN?)

I am unapologetically undocumented. I am unapologetically a person of color. I will unapologetically lead my community in defending ourselves from Trump and his white supremacist regime. We cannot just sit idly by while Congress decides our fates. If the fact that us rallying in the streets, sharing our stories in the media, and engaging in civil disobedience to draw attention to the issue is “being downright confrontational” as this one gentleman so succinctly described, then so be it. “I don’t think your confrontational voices helped the cause. I think it even alienated lots [of] people,” another person said. Non-violent direct action and organizing (which is what we do) is what brought the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. If you’re alienated by us simply sharing our human stories and fighting to be able to stay in the only place we’ve known, then you’re not on our side and you can stop pretending to be.

We will continue to pressure our Members of Congress to act on this issue and to act quickly. We will continue to march and rally in the streets. We will continue to risk arrest in selfless acts of civil disobedience. We have a multi-faceted approach to this issue that affects us most directly. Those who are not directly impacted have no legitimate say in how we formulate strategy. There are almost a million DACA recipients in this country. Beginning March 5th, 2018, over 1,400 of them a day will lose their DACA protections over the next few years. There are over 11 million undocumented immigrants that live in this country. What are we going to do for them? These are the questions we must answer.

In summary, if you’re not undocumented or a DACA recipient, pass the mic. You can support and you can be an ally, but approach one of us about what that should look like. Criticizing our strategy and making your support conditional upon us succumbing to respectability politics is not being a good ally and you can go on somewhere with that. I will not respect a man who seeks to tear my community apart.



New Beginnings and Reflections on Organizing

When I started this blog last November, I had high hopes for it. I thought I had the personal capacity and the time to write regularly and share my thoughts on what was going on around me. Man, was I wrong. It turns out – trying (and sometimes failing) to live a balanced life while working around 60 hours a week at a small nonprofit, serving on the board of a very active Filipino-American association, and still making time for my hobbies (like golf and woodwork) and for friends and my then-girlfriend didn’t offer very much time for me to sit down and write.

Needless to say, my life has calmed down quite substantially since then. One benefit of starting this blog when I did, though, was being able to put my story, in my own words, in a place easily accessible and easily shared. Since November, my site has been visited by over 800 unique visitor and has been viewed over 1500 times. People would ask me all the time why life in the United States has been so challenging for me as an undocumented immigrant. This made it immensely easier for me to share my own personal story in the hopes of lifting up millions of undocumented voices. Here is my pledge to write more regularly—not for anyone else, but for myself.

LIFE UPDATE—these last few weeks for me have been full of new beginnings. In the last month, I transitioned out of my beloved role at Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Atlanta in the pursuit of new adventures. Transition is tough. I wondered: how drastically would my life change after leaving my passionate world of nonprofits for the big, scary world of private sector America. Add on top of that closing another chapter of my life—I exited a very deep, meaningful relationship at seemingly the right time. Doors closed and others opened.

Let me be clear. I didn’t leave my job because of any negative energy at Advancing Justice. The place was great! I was able to live somewhat comfortably whilst making a difference in a community that remains incredibly important to me. I set out looking for a job with a more consistent schedule than what nonprofit law and advocacy was able to offer me. At Advancing Justice, I found some of my best friends, the best coworkers, a family, and the most passionate people anyone could ever ask for.

I’ve now transitioned into a new role at Kuck Immigration Partners, LLC—a nationwide immigration law practice that has become a household name in many immigrant communities. I work as an Immigration Paralegal in its Family Immigration Practice Group, handling simple and complex family immigration matters before the USCIS, BIA, EOIR, CBP, ICE, and other decision-making bodies with some of the best immigration attorneys you can find anywhere. I am loving it!

I fit in quite nicely. My new work family is incredibly supportive and has been with me every step of the way. My clients make the work so meaningful. Transitioning from large-scale advocacy efforts to direct one-on-one client service was definitely an experience. I feel like the fruits of my labor are much more tangible and come much more quickly. We can advocate for years and years for policy change, but when it comes down to it, there are individuals and families who are suffering through our broken immigration system every day who need personal advocacy. Assisting a client through their Green Card process or their Citizenship Process and seeing the looks on their faces when I tell them that we are here for them, every step of the way, is the most gratifying feeling.

Now, all that being said, here’s my dilemma: How do I continue to be a part of the movement to change our broken immigration system whilst working in the private sector? Here are my thoughts on that:

When I left Advancing Justice, I feared being labeled a “sell-out” by some of my friends and colleagues. I feared that I would become part of the machine, nothing on my mind but cranking out the cases, hitting my bonus, and leaving the real policy advocacy for others to do. For my own sanity, I couldn’t let this happen. Yes, I strive to be as productive as I can be in my new job, taking on as many cases as I can comfortably handle, but I have to remember that on the other side of that conference room table is a human being that hired us for our expertise in providing them the best representation possible. Every single client is a life touched by our efforts and there’s no denying that that work is meaningful too, just in a different way.

On the side, I wear a number of hats to continue to do my part in lifting up the voices of our communities. I now use some of the valuable skills I learned after working in nonprofits to consult for nonprofit organizations looking to build capacity and technical expertise in mobilizing voters. Additionally, I consult for candidates for public office that I truly believe in. I still serve on the board of the Filipino American Association of Greater Atlanta, lifting up the voices and needs of my own community.

All of that to say that, even though I no longer work in nonprofits, I’m still trying to be intentional about giving back to the community in the ways I best know how. This is important now more than ever. With the most recent events happening in Charlottesville, VA and all over the country, white supremacists, Neo-Nazis, and Confederate-sympathizers are emboldened to stand up and revert the progress that our country has made over the last few decades in terms of racial unity and equality. And our “President” has done virtually nothing to quell this uptick in white nationalism and has, instead, helped to amplify it.

Intersectional organizing work is crucial to moving our society along. We can no longer work within our silos if we intend to bring collective liberation to all of us. It is important for us to recognize that, as oppressed peoples, we have more in common with each other than we think. Immigrant-rights activists, LGBT-rights activists, food justice activists, racial justice activists, and other so-called progressives, need to come together and develop some real strategy for resistance. Without a truly intersectional approach, we will accomplish nothing. Let’s have a conversation. Let’s advocate, resist, and organize.

Until next time, my friends.