Two US senators urging SXSW to move due to ‘anti-immigrant’ laws in Texas

Michelle Obama at SXSW keynote. (KXAN Photo/Phil Prazan)
Michelle Obama at SXSW keynote 2016. (KXAN Photo/Phil Prazan)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Two United States senators are asking the CEO of South by Southwest to abandon Austin and Texas and hold the festival in a different state due to the recent passing of the sanctuary cities law.

U.S. Senators Robert Menendez, D-New Jersey, and Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nevada, drafted a letter to Roland Swenson on June 6. In the letter, the lawmakers thanked Swenson and SXSW for speaking out against “harsh immigration policies” when President Donald Trump originally issued the executive order banning travel from certain Muslim-majority countries.

Now that the law is in place, the senators are asking SXSW to consider relocating the 2018 festival until the “anti-immigrant” law is repealed. The senators say if SXSW continues to have its festival in Austin, people who travel to Texas to attend the festival “may be subject to constitutional violations if stopped by law enforcement.” Because festival attendees come from all over the world, the senators believe the new law would not allow SXSW to be a safe place for immigrants.

In response to the letter, Swenson says in a statement that leaving the city is not a solution and that “Austin is our home and 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 goes on to say that SXSW agrees that SB4 stands “diametrically opposed to the spirit of SXSW” and that his organization will continue to speak out against it.

Austin’s Mayor Steve Adler also said that while he stands firmly in opposition to SB4, the idea of removing SXSW from Austin is “ridiculous.” He added that he is glad that SXSW is standing by their commitment to Austin.

“We would invite people and encourage people to come to Austin,Texas to support us in the calls and the positions that we’re taking, and we’re appreciative that SXSW in response to that letter stated emphatically that they stand by Austin and in opposition to the bathroom bill and Senate Bill 4. They are a partner of the city, we are allies, we stand shoulder to shoulder, I think that gives us both strength,” Adler said.

When 2018 comes around Adler said he’s confident you’ll find him strolling around South by Southwest, in Austin.

“There is something unique and special and magical in this city and I think it finds an expression in South by Southwest,” Adler said.

He noted that the extra support for the city of Austin is welcome as he feels the city has been targeted for opposing the governor and state legislature. Adler also worries about a proposed state bathroom bill which the Austin Convention Center tells him would drive away over 20 conventions from the city.

“Given the governor’s call yesterday, you feel a little bit like West Berlin surrounded here and we appreciate all the air drops we can get,” Adler said.

Gov. Greg Abbott’s office also responded to the senators letter by basically telling the senators to mind their own business. “The Senators from New Jersey and Nevada would serve their constituents far better by taking care of business in Washington D.C. rather than fear-mongering about a law that keeps dangerous criminals off the street and that a majority of Texans support,” said Abbott’s communications director Ciara Matthews.

State Rep. Paul Workman was also dismayed by the letter. “I commend the organizers of SXSW for rejecting the obvious political posturing of two Washington Democrats who do not have the best interests of Texas in mind.”

State Sen. Dawn Buckingham, who supported SB4 as well, suggested the letter blew SB4 out of proportion. “Senate Bill 4 is about public safety and the rule of law not music festivals or scoring political points instead of taking care of business in Washington,” Buckingham said in a statement to KXAN.

Austin along with several other cities in Texas have already filed suit to challenge the legality of the new law.

What is the new law?

The law basically bans sanctuary cities in Texas. The law requires local government and law enforcement to follow all federal immigration laws and detainer requests, putting in place criminal penalties if anyone breaks the new law.

Anyone who does not comply with the new law could now face any of the following:

  • A civil penalty for entities in violation of the law of up to $25,500 for each day of the violation.
  • A class A misdemeanor for a sheriff, chief of police, or constable who fails to comply with federal immigration detainer requests
  • Removal from office for any elected or appointed official who does not comply with the law.

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