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After artist backlash, SXSW will remove controversial immigration clause in 2018 contracts

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Amelia Krales

In a blog post today, SXSW has confirmed it will remove a controversial deportation clause in its artist contracts “for 2018 and beyond.” The clause in question reserved the right for SXSW to contact immigration authorities if international artists played unofficial showcases while in Austin. Organizers say they will “change the language” of the artist agreement and “remove the option of notifying immigration authorities.”

“Safety is a primary concern for SXSW, and we report any safety issues to local authorities,” organizers wrote. “It is not SXSW’s duty or authority to escalate a matter beyond local authorities.”

The clause has actually been in SXSW’s contracts for years, but came under renewed suspicion last week when musician Felix Walworth of the band Told Slant tweeted a screenshot of the contract, and announced their decision to back out of the festival.

Walworth’s tweets sparked backlash from several other musicians. Artists like Sheer Mag, Screaming Females, Talib Kweli, and Zach de la Rocha signed an open letter condemning the contract’s language and demanding the SXSW rescind the clause. Don Giovanni Records’ Joe Steinhardt said he would pull the label’s entire showcase from the festival if organizers did not amend the contract. “We are a very small label and it took us a long time to be able to earn our own showcase at SXSW. It is something I am very proud of,” Steinhardt wrote in a Facebook post last week. “But I cannot be proud to present a showcase at SXSW this year with the current language that the artists playing are being asked to agree to.”

Although SXSW co-founder Roland Swenson initially called the whole thing a “misunderstanding” and said that the festival would likely never act on the clause, activists and lawyers pointed out that the aggressive wording was not an industry standard.

A few days after Walworth’s tweets, SXSW organizers said they would consider amending the clause in the future, but stopped short of making an official decision. After artists continued to push back on the festival’s wavering, SXSW today officially announced the removal of the immigration clause.

"I'm glad to see that sxsw has made explicit promises to remove their anti-immigrant policy from the festival's contract,” Walworth wrote in a statement to The Verge. “But our work here definitely isn’t finished. I hope that as artists and activists we can continue to have conversations about what kinds of structures and institutions we're willing to support with our work and our voices. And I hope that these conversations can lead to more active resistance in the future.”

“In this political climate, especially as it relates to immigration, we recognize the heightened importance of standing together against injustice,” SXSW organizers wrote in today’s blog post. “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.”

Update, 7:05 PM ET: Updated to include Walworth’s statement.