SXSW rescinds controversial deportation threat in contract

Last week, dozens of high profile artists signed an open letter promising to boycott the SXSW Music Festival until it removed an ominous threat of deportation from its standard contract with artists. After some initial defensiveness, the festival has changed its tune, removing the offending language and issuing an apology.

In a statement issued Tuesday, the festival apologized for its contract’s previous language and affirmed its commitment to protecting the rights of immigrants. It promised to remove the portion that sounded like a threat to call immigration on international artists who play unofficial shows… because it was a threat to call immigration on international artists who play unofficial shows.

The whole statement, via Pitchfork:

With the announcement of President Trump’s latest Travel Ban, SXSW would like to reaffirm its public opposition to these executive orders and provide ongoing support to the artists traveling from foreign countries to our event.

To reinforce that stance, we would like to address the concerns regarding the language in our artist invitation letter and performance agreement for the SXSW Music Festival.

SXSW will do the following:

We will change the language in our artist invitation letter and performance agreement for 2018 and beyond. We will remove the option of notifying immigration authorities in situations where a foreign artist might “adversely affect the viability of Artist’s official showcase.”

*Safety is a primary concern for SXSW, and we report any safety issues to local authorities. It is not SXSW’s duty or authority to escalate a matter beyond local authorities.

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

While SXSW works to be in compliance with U.S. immigration law, it is important to know that: SXSW has not, does not, and will not, disclose an artist’s immigration status, except when required by law.
SXSW does not have the power to deport anyone.

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.

Each year SXSW coordinates with hundreds of international acts coming to SXSW to try and mitigate issues at U.S. ports of entry. This year we are working to build a coalition of attorneys to assist any who face problems upon arrival in the States.

In the 31 years of SXSW’s existence, we have never reported any artist or participant to any immigration agency.

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

This represents a reversal from the festival’s prior, disingenuous stance that it wasn’t threatening to snitch out its own artists, just trying to make sure nobody used pyrotechnics on stage. (Seriously, go back and read it again and tell me if you think that’s what they were trying to say.)

Felix Walworth of Told Slant, the musician who initially brought the issue to light, tweeted a preliminary declaration of victory:

Letter signer Victoria Ruiz of radical punk band Downtown Boys was similarly pleased:

Let this be a lesson to little people everywhere: When lots of regular citizens work together (some of whom are moderately indie famous, but still), they can be an effective engine of change.

[photo: Getty]