SXSW Plans to Remove Immigration Clause, Backs Away From Deportation Threats

At least one band pulled out over language that threatened foreign-born acts with deportation for participating in unsanctioned performances

The South by Southwest Music Festival reversed course Tuesday, backing away from language in its contract that threatened to deport foreign-born acts playing at “unofficial” performances during the March extravaganza and pledging to change it going forward.

In a statement posted on the South by Southwest website, the festival’s organizers promised to change its invitation letter for 2018 and beyond. SXSW also said it will “remove the option of notifying immigration authorities in situations where a foreign artist might ‘adversely affect the viability of Artist’s official showcase.'”

The original language threatened any foreign-born acts that accepted often-lucrative side gigs during the festival, which technically violate the SXSW terms. But with this year’s festival highlighting acts from countries affected by President Trump’s travel ban, plenty of backlash ensued, and one act, the Brooklyn-based band Told Slant, chose to cancel its scheduled performance at this month’s festival as a result.

Last week, SXSW CEO and co-founder Roland Swenson defended the contract in a statementsaying the festival had “never reported international showcasing artists to immigration authorities” and that “language governing SXSW’s ability to protect a showcase has been in the artist Performance Agreement for many years.”

“Accepting and performing at unofficial events (including unofficial events aside from SXSW Music dates during their visit to the United States) may result in immediate deportation, revoked passport and denied entry by US Customs Border Patrol at US ports of entry,” the original contract read.

That wasn’t a satisfactory excuse for plenty of performers and attendees, and SXSW demonstratively changed course Tuesday — recognizing the need to do so in post-travel ban America.

“In this political climate, especially as it relates to immigration, we recognize the heightened importance of standing together against injustice,” the statement said.

The festival’s organizers also said that they had never deported a single performer in its 31 years.

“We would like to again apologize for the language in our agreements,” the statement said. “We care deeply about the community we serve, and our event is a welcome and safe space for all people.”

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