Staying Put

SXSW rejects call to leave Texas over controversial 'sanctuary cities' law

SXSW rejects call to leave Texas over controversial law

SXSW Festival Austin skyline
SXSW is staying put. SXSW/Facebook

Facing pressure from two federal lawmakers, the CEO of SXSW says the annual tech, film, and music festival won’t leave Austin.

In a June 6 letter, U.S. Sens. Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, and Catherine Cortez Masto, a Nevada Democrat, asked SXSW organizers to consider moving the festival out of Texas in 2018 until the state’s divisive new “sanctuary cities” law is repealed or overturned.

In a statement responding to the senators’ letter, Roland Swenson, co-founder and CEO of SXSW, says relocating the festival to another state isn’t the solution to fighting the “sanctuary cities” law.

“Austin is our home and an integral part of who we are. We will stay here and continue to make our event inclusive while fighting for the rights of all,” Swenson says.

Set to take effect September 1, the law — which already has been challenged in court — punishes localities that fail to enforce immigration laws or fail to cooperate with federal immigration officials, according to the Texas Tribune. It also allows law enforcement officers to ask about a person’s immigration status during various encounters, including traffic stops.

Swenson says SXSW supports the City of Austin’s fight against the law, known as SB 4, and will continue to oppose 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. We understand why, in today’s political climate, people are asking us to leave Texas,” Swenson says.

In a statement, Austin Mayor Steve Adler sided with SXSW, which he calls “the world’s fair of the future.” Reaffirming his disapproval of the “sanctuary cities” law, Adler says he opposes “any means of protest that punishes Austin for the sins of the legislature.”

“Simply put, it makes no sense and is counter-productive. Would you protest censorship under the Soviet Union by boycotting the books of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn? Would you protest the Berlin Wall by boycotting the Berlin Air Lift?” Adler says. “Nothing will play into the hands of those whom we oppose more than boycotting Austin, the city they call the People’s Republic of Austin and that we call home.”

Protesting the “sanctuary cities” law by requesting that SXSW depart its longtime home “is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard,” Adler says.

In their letter, the senators applaud SXSW for historically being “a beacon of consistency, standing with artists and participants regarding equality, tolerance, and safety during events.”

“SB 4, however, would not allow SXSW to be a safe place for immigrants and Americans alike to visit, participate, and enjoy; the culture and safety of the event would be greatly diminished if your attendants are faced with the humiliation and harassment that this new law would inflict,” the senators say in the letter. “Not only does this law stand against what SXSW stands for but also what we fundamentally stand for as a nation that believes in basic dignity and respect for all.”