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SXSW Rescinds Controversial Deportation Clause in Artist Agreement

Variety logo Variety 3/7/2017 Dani Levy
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After an outcry from artists and SXSW attendees, the Austin, Texas, festival announced in a blog post that it will remove controversial language regarding immigration and deportation from its artist invitation letter. SXSW will remove the option of notifying immigration authorities “for 2018 and beyond” where a foreign artist might “adversely affect the viability of Artist’s official showcase.”

SXSW had suggested it would notify ICE and other U.S. immigration authorities resulting in deportation, revoked passports or refusal at U.S. ports of entry if artists act in the aforementioned manner. Specifically, the “action” at the center of the controversy involved international artists playing unsanctioned and unofficial shows during the week-long festival.

Acts are often known to play surprise and secret shows throughout the celebration, a tradition enjoyed at underground bars and public spaces around the Texas city. The festival organizers do not support the trend.

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

Despite the language of the article citing deportation as a possible result of failing to adhere to SXSW rules, the statement claims “there are no ‘deportation clauses’ in our current performance agreements.” SXSW CEO and co-founder Roland Swenson has said the festival has never reported an international artist to immigration authorities before.

The clause has actually been in the artist agreement for years, but recently came to public attention when musician Felix Walworth of the band Told Slant posted a screenshot of the contract to Twitter.

He also announced the band’s decision to cancel their SXSW performance, leading other artists to take action themselves. In an open letter condemning the clause, artists and industry-ites Talib Kweli, Atmosphere, Zach de la Rocha, and others demanded SXSW remove the clause.

“We are calling on SXSW to immediately drop this clause from their contract, and cease any collusion with immigration officials that puts performers in danger,” the letter said.

PBS NewsHour also reported that the practice is not industry standard and goes beyond what is necessary.

“Safety is a primary concern for SXSW,” the festival statement went on to say, “and we report any safety issues to local authorities. It is not SXSW’s duty or authority to escalate a matter beyond local authorities.”

Earlier Tuesday, SXSW made another announcement that FBI director James Comey would not be attending the even due to “scheduling conflicts.” Comey has been wrapped up in political drama after President Donald Trump alleged via Twitter that former President Barack Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower.

SXSW takes place in Austin March 13-19.

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