Austin's SXSW festival dragged into immigration debate

Austin's South By Southwest Festival is taking heat for appearing to threaten international bands with deportation if they play gigs that aren't part of the official schedule, which runs from March 10-19.

In order to maximize exposure and get the most bang for their travel buck, up-and-coming bands often play multiple showcases while at SXSW, both official and not.

On Thursday, musician Felix Walworth, who goes by the stage name Told Slant, announced he was canceling his SXSW appearance after reading a clause in his contract which threatens to report any international acts playing unsanctioned gigs to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

According to the excerpt in his tweet, "Accepting and performing unofficial events may result in immediate deportation, revoked passport and denied entry by U.S. Customs Border Patrol (sic) at U.S. ports of entry."

The contract also bars international bands in the country on non-work visas from playing unofficial or public shows for the last six days of the festival.

In a statement to USA TODAY, SXSW's managing director Roland Swenson said that Walworth's withdrawal was the result of "a misunderstanding of our policies regarding international artists."

He explained that rising bands from other countries who play SXSW usually do so on non-work visas, saving the artists time and money.

 

"There is language in the Performance Agreement which is included to inform foreign artists that the U.S. immigration authorities have mechanisms to create trouble for artists who ignore U.S. immigration laws," he said. "For example, those acts coming to SXSW to perform without a work visa are limited, by U.S. immigration law, to performing their showcase event only. If an artist wishes to perform elsewhere, they will require a work visa."

Swenson acknowledged that the contract language is being received differently following the election of Donald Trump, even though the controversial sections are not new.

"We understand that given the current political climate surrounding immigration, the language that was published seems strong," he continued. "Violating U.S. immigration law has always carried potentially severe consequences, and we would be remiss not to warn our participating acts of the likely repercussions."

He also wanted to make clear which side the festival has taken in the immigration debate.

"SXSW has been vocal in its opposition to President Trump’s travel ban and is working hard to build a coalition of attorneys to assist artists with issues at U.S. ports of entry during the event. We have artists from 62 countries from around the world performing and have always supported our international music community. We have never reported international showcasing artists to immigration authorities."

USA Today


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