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Artists’ Deportations Cloud South by Southwest Festival

SXSW
Carmen Cornejo
Written by Carmen Cornejo

The U.S. has changed so much since Donald Trump became president – not only for undocumented immigrants but for visitors, tourists… and artists.

That has been particularly evident at the tech- and music-oriented South by Southwest Festival, which has been marred this year by changing attitudes and harsher immigration and customs enforcement.

South by Southwest (which goes by SXSW) is a gathering of musical performers, filmmakers, interactive media producers, and technology geeks who showcase gadgets and attend conferences every year in Austin in mid-March. In previous years, participating artists flew in from more than 62 countries.

Musicians and performers at SXSW are usually not paid, and they perform just for the opportunity to showcase their art to a worldwide audience that engages not only by attending the live event but by accessing their YouTube channel and social media.

Right from the start, SXSW organizers received criticism for the tough language contained in the contracts and invitations to participate. Festival organizers said they would turn artists who perform outside of the festival over to ICE. 

Artists and performers took to social media to publicize the threat. This is the original invitation text:

“SXSW will notify the appropriate U.S. immigration authorities of the above actions. International Artists entering the country through the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), B visa or any non-work visa may not perform at any public or non-sanctioned SXSW Music Festival DAY OR NIGHT shows in Austin from March 13-19, 2017. Accepting and performing unofficial events may result in the immediate deportation, revoked passport and denied entry by US Customs Border Patrol at US ports of entry.”

The organizers later wrote a statement expressing support for international artists and their opposition to Donald Trump’s travel ban. Additionally, SXSW retracted their threat to report musicians who performed outside the festival to immigration authorities and apologized for the previous communications’ language. Among other points, they stated:

  • “There are no ‘deportation clauses’ in our current performance agreements. There will be no ‘deportation clauses’ in our future participant agreements.
  • “SXSW does not ‘collude with’ any immigration agencies including ICE, CBP or USCIS to deport anyone.”

However, the media buzz on the SXSW controversy did not prevent CBP (Customs and Border Protection) authorities from denying entrance to and deporting several artists on the supposition that they would be offering performances outside SXSW. According to a Facebook post by the Italian band Soviet, Soviet, CBP officers decided to deny entry to the band members (and finally deport them) after investigating whether venues that scheduled their performances were asking for entry fees. The CBP officers decided the band members needed work visas, even though they were not to receive any income for that gig.

Here is a list of artists who were denied entry to the U.S. and missed their SXSW performance.

Most of the people deported had B1 or B2 (visitor) visas or were from countries that participate in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP).

“Nowadays visitors should strictly stick to the purpose of their trip and the corresponding visa. They need to ask themselves, ‘Would a regular tourist do a certain activity, like a musical performance?'” said Marcos Garciaacosta, a business attorney who is a former H-1B visa recipient and works with clients soliciting working and investor visas. “If the answer is no, you need a working visa.”

Enjoy Soviet Soviet’s music.