Responding to outcry, SXSW clarifies policies around international talent

With controversial moves to tighten immigration in the works, visitors from abroad and U.S. citizens alike are on edge about international travel. For the organizers of South by Southwest, that climate gave rise to a public outcry over controversial language in its artist contracts.

In light of the ensuing backlash among attendees and performers, SXSW has issued a statement asserting its opposition toward the Trump administration’s actions around immigration. The letter notes that SXSW will change language in its performer contracts to remove mentions of making contact with immigration officials in changes that will go into effect in 2018.

“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,” the statement reads.

Previously, in an interview with the Austin Chronicle, SXSW CEO and co-founder Roland Swenson dismissed concerns over what many interpreted as a new, politically motivated policy, noting that the language has actually been in place for at least five years.

The statement also clarifies a number of points of potential criticism:

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.”

As some have noted, the questionable language might have had more to do with SXSW’s aggressive policy of cracking down on unofficial events than anything in current political cycles. Still, if it isn’t too little, too late, the clarification should help to stem the fallout leading into SXSW 2017.