SXSW Organizers Amend Contract After Immigration Controversy

Following widespread online scrutiny, South by Southwest organizers have updated their performance agreement to lessen the threat of deportation for international artists who do not abide by the contract. The festival released a statement on Tuesday outlining how it is updating its language.

Beginning next year, performance agreements will no longer contain language saying the fest reserved the right to notify immigration police of artists who could “adversely affect the viability of artist’s official showcase.” However, it is reserving the right to contact local authorities of situations that endanger people. It said it would not go beyond local authorities, though, when it came to such matters.

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

The festival added that it does not have the power to deport an artist, reveal an artist’s immigration status or “collude with” immigration agencies such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement or Customs and Border Protection.

Last week, the frontperson of the indie-rock group Told Slant, Felix Walworth, tweeted out a screenshot of the contract and decried the festival’s threatening language. “That they’re willing to threaten deportation is enough evidence for me that they don’t care about anyone including the artists that lend them their legitimacy,” they wrote.

The CEO and co-founder of the fest, Roland Swenson, issued a statement that day refuting Walworth’s claims, calling the situation a misunderstanding. But the festival organizers released another statement last Friday saying they had been confused initially by Walworth’s claims – “we believed this artist had taken our language out of context” – and apologized.

In the meantime, dozens of artists – including Downtown Boys, Killer Mike, Ted Leo and Kimya Dawson – signed an open letter to the festival, asking them to amend the contract.

Read the full statement:

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.

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