“Immigration Clauses” in SXSW’s Artist Performance Contracts Cause Outrage

The presence of “immigration clauses” in artist performance contracts for the Austin, Texas festival South by South West (SXSW) has prompted criticism and protests by the musicians scheduled to perform.

Musician Felix Walworth, of the band Told Slant, publicly canceled his band’s scheduled performance after finding out about the clause in his performance contract, purporting to give SXSW the right to notify immigration authorities in the event that international artists act “in ways that adversely affect the viability of their official SXSW showcase.” Walworth posted an excerpt of his performance contract on Twitter.

Walworth’s tweet was followed by a wave of outrage by American and international artists. More than forty artists have signed an open letter expressing their disapproval, stating that “in light of recent attacks on immigrant communities, this practice is particularly chilling.” The letter demands that SXSW rescind the controversial clause.

SXSW Managing Director Ronald Swenson responded to the criticism by stating that the clause has been drafted into the performance contracts “for about five years” but has never been enforced. Swenson explained to USA TODAY that the provision is included in order to “inform foreign artists that the U.S. immigration authorities have mechanisms to create trouble for artists who ignore U.S. immigration laws.” According to Swenson, foreign artists at SXSW performing without a work visa are limited “to performing their showcase event only.” SXSW has not rescinded the clause.

Austin, Texas, the location of the music festival, is a sanctuary city, meaning that local authorities do not usually enforce federal immigration laws rigidly.

Letter from Victoria Ruiz and Joey L DeFrancesco, Downtown Boys, to SXSW (March 2, 2017), https://docs.google.com/document/d/1PSBCxfqIU_4alfw0hUMjPBSvtqyztBUb0NMcmrzGyQk/edit

Kevin Curtin, “SXSW Performance Contract Sparks Controversy,” The Austin Chronicle (March 2, 2017), http://www.austinchronicle.com/daily/music/2017-03-02/sxsw-performance-contract-sparks-controversy/

Jayme Deerwester, “Austin’s SWSW festival dragged into immigration debate,” USA TODAY (March 2, 2017), http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/music/2017/03/02/austins-sxsw-festival-dragged-into-immigration-debate/98653692/

Elizabeth Flock, “SXSW’s immigration clauses are ‘not standard,’ lawyers say,” PBS.org (March 3, 2017), http://www.pbs.org/newshour/art/sxsws-immigration-clauses-not-standard-lawyers-say/