It’s been a hectic time for everyone involved in this year's South by Southwest festival in Austin.
After a huge backlash, the festival recently announced it would change language in its contract which stated that international bands whose behavior "adversely [affected] the viability" of SXSW could be reported to immigration authorities. But that was just the start of the immigration issues surrounding the festival.
Now, it seems some non-American bands can’t even get into the U.S. despite having the right visas. Several bands have announced they will not be participating in SXSW because members couldn’t get into the country. Some artists have even reportedly been held in a detention center and deported.
Yesterday, Brownswood Recordings released a statement informing fans that three members of two of its bands had their "ESTA" visas revoked. (ESTA visas are part of the American visa waiver program, which allows people from certain countries who are traveling to the U.S. for “tourism or business purposes” for up to 90 days to do so without obtaining a travel or work visa. It’s a commonly used visa for bands in situations like this, though its coverage of performing artists is the subject of much debate.)
Brothers Ahmed Deyes and Kareem Deyes, who play in the band United Vibrations, and their brother Yussef Deyes, who plays both with them and in another band called Yussef Kamaal, were all denied entry to the country.
On Sunday night, another band, the Egyptian-Canadian post-hardcore outfit Massive Scar Era, announced in a now-removed Facebook video that they too had been denied entry after showing border officers a letter from SXSW stating they could use a tourist visa to travel. According to NPR, the band did have four American tour stops listed on their Facebook page, something not covered by the visa waiver. Still, that doesn’t excuse the alleged treatment they received at the border. Via NPR:
In the video, Amr recounts a purported exchange between the immigration agent and Wijdenes-Charles. "Dylan is a First Nation [indigenous Canadian]," she exclaims. "He's allowed to go to the States whenever he wants to, work whenever he wants to, because he's First Nation … He [the CBP agent] looked at him and he's like, 'Next time when you come, you have to show a blood test that you're First Nation.'" The band says that Wijdenes-Charles was carrying an official card identifying him as a First Nation member.
It was noted that if this interaction actually took place, it could be a violation of the Jay Treaty, which has allowed First Nations people and Native Americans “free passage” across the Canadian-U.S. border for a variety of reasons since 1794.
Last week, Italian band Soviet Soviet claimed in a Facebook post that not only were they interrogated for hours before being denied entry to the country, but they were placed in restraints and held in a detention center until they could be taken back to the airport and deported. They were slated to play other, non-paid gigs on top of SXSW, which is likely the reason why border agents declared they had the wrong visa.
All of this comes just as SXSW is weathering a storm over its position on immigration. The since-disavowed language about international bands in its contract prompted some people to back out of the festival and others to contribute to an open letter demanding that SXSW change the policy and apologize to international bands.
It is unclear how the denial of entry for some of these bands this year may affect any future rules the festival comes up with.