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SXSW criticised for threatening to deport foreign artists

The festival has blamed the furore on a ‘misunderstanding’ of its policies

SXSW came under fire on Thursday, after a leaked contract from the festival revealed its plans to report rule-breaking international acts to US immigration authorities. 

The controversial clause warns that artists who do not abide by the contract, or who perform at unofficial SXSW showcases, face being reported to authorities. A screenshot of the contract was tweeted by Told Slant’s Felix Walworth yesterday, who ended up cancelling his group’s appearance as an act of protest. 

“I'm not interested in aligning myself with an institution that interacts with immigration authorities as a means of controlling where art is shared and performed, and who makes money off of it,” Walworth wrote on Twitter. “This festival uses an imperialist model and prioritises centralising and packaging culture over communities and people's safety.”

He added: “It's no secret that SXSW has played a huge role in the process of Austin's rapid gentrification. The whole festival exists to the detriment of working-class people and people of colour in Austin. 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.”

Roland Swenson, the CEO and co-founder of SXSW, has since issued a statement dismissing Walworth’s comments, writing that his decision to pull out of his performance was due to “a misunderstanding” of the festival policies. Swenson also clarified that – although the clause had existed for the last five years – the festival had “never reported” any international showcasing artists to immigration authorities.

“We have never reported international showcasing artists to immigration authorities,” he stated. “We were sorry to learn that one of our invited performers chose to cancel his performance at this year's SXSW Music Festival due to a misunderstanding of our policies regarding international artists.”

Swenson also took the opportunity to comment on Donald Trump’s travel ban. The CEO stressed that the festival was staunchly opposed to the president’s stance on immigration, and had even set up a showcase – titled Contrabanned: #MusicUnites – to celebrate performers who had been affected. 

“SXSW has been vocal in its opposition to President Trump's Travel Ban and is working hard to build a coalition of attorneys to assist artists with issues at U.S. ports of entry during the event,” he continued. “We have artists from 62 countries from around the world performing and have always supported our international music community.”

Swenson added: “We understand that given the current political climate surrounding immigration, the language that was published seems strong. Violating U.S. immigration law has always carried potentially severe consequences, and we would be remiss not to warn our participating acts of the likely repercussions.”