After last week’s dustup surrounding immigration-related language in its performance contract, South by Southwest has formally announced a change of policy. The Austin-based festival was lambasted on social media after an artist announced they were refusing to perform because of contract language that suggested the festival could notify U.S. immigration authorities under certain circumstances.
Organizers defended the language initially, arguing that the clause was in contracts for many years, and that the festival had “never reported international showcasing artists to immigration authorities.”
Today’s statement on the festival’s website announced that future performance agreements will drop the language starting in 2018 and that it will “remove the option of notifying immigration authorities in situations where a foreign artist might 'adversely affect the viability of Artist’s official showcase.'”
SXSW General Counsel Heather Liberman told KUT that today's statement was meant to clear up any unintended confusion.
“We decided to make the change when it became very clear to us that the language as written was creating problems that were not intended," Liberman said. "And we understand, in light of the current political climate, this type of language is a lot scarier than perhaps when it was originally drafted a number of years ago."
Liberman says the language was drafted in 2013 and began being distributed as early as last fall – before the election. SXSW's statement emphasized that it has no power to deport any artist and that there will be no “deportation clauses” in future agreements. It also emphasized that it only cooperates with local law enforcement, not immigration authorities.
"Our intention was really that, if there’s an extreme situation that causes any safety concerns, that we might report," Liberman said. "But never have done that, and we have no intention on ever doing that. If there was a safety issue, we do reporting to local authorities. So, if there was a concern, we would just call APD for anyone, regardless of what their status may or may not be."
SXSW's statement apologized for the contracts' language and said that the event "is a welcome and safe place for all people."
"We hope that people realize the sincerity of that apology and will look forward to attending South by Southwest," Liberman said.
This post has been updated.