SXSW Declines Senators' Pleas to Leave Texas Due to Sanctuary City Ban

"We will stay here and continue to make our event inclusive while fighting for the rights of all," says festival CEO Roland Swenson

Credit: Andy Sheppard/Redferns/Getty

The organizers of South by Southwest said they would not move the festival from Austin despite Texas' new "sanctuary cities" ban, the Statesman reports. 

On Tuesday, Democratic Senators Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada sent a letter to SXSW CEO and co-founder Roland Swenson urging him to relocate the 2018 festival until Texas' new SB4 law is repealed.

"Austin is our home and an integral part of who we are," Swenson said in a statement. "We will stay here and continue to make our event inclusive while fighting for the rights of all."

Governor Greg Abbott signed SB4 into law last month and it goes into effect September 1st. The new legislation includes two significant anti-immigration statutes. It establishes civil and criminal penalties for local law enforcement agents who disregard requests from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to extend the detentions of inmates suspected of being illegal immigrants. And while SB4 does not require officers to demand documentation from suspected illegal immigrants – like Arizona's infamous "papers please" law – it prohibits sheriffs and police chiefs from keeping their officers from asking for papers.

Austin, San Antonio and Dallas have already filed lawsuits challenging SB4. Swenson said SXSW stood with Austin and its "challenge against SB4 and will continue to speak out against it, and all discriminatory legislation." 

"We agree with the Senators that the law stands diametrically opposed to the spirit of SXSW and respect their call to action," he said. "We understand why, in today's political climate, people are asking us to leave Texas."

In March, ahead of this year's festival, SXSW came under fire for language in its performance agreement that struck many as anti-immigrant. Many artists argued that the agreement gave the festival the right to notify immigration authorities of bands who do not abide by the contract, such as playing an unofficial showcase. SXSW organizers eventually amended the agreement to lessen the threat of deportation for international artists starting in 2018.