SXSW to remain in Austin despite Senate Bill 4

Claire Allbright

The South by Southwest Music Festival will remain in Austin after a plea by two U.S. senators for the festival to leave the state was denied by SXSW CEO Roland Swenson.

In an open letter, Sen. Robert Menendez, D-New Jersey, and Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Arizona, said their request was a direct result of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signing Senate Bill 4, the controversial “sanctuary cities” bill, into law.

“In America we believe that people should be judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin, but that is not what SB4 does,” the senators’ June 7 letter read.  
SB 4, which goes into effect Sept. 1, creates penalties of up to $25,500 a day with the threat of removal from office for law enforcement officials who refuse to comply with U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement detainers for people who are thought to be in the country illegally. Additionally, the law bars local police and sheriffs from denying their officers the ability to ask a person’s immigration status.

“With this bill we are doing away with those that seek to promote lawlessness in Texas,” Abbott said in a statement upon signing the bill.

However, Menendez and Masto stressed that this law is opposed to both the spirit of SXSW and fundamental dignity and respect the country stands for.

“Throughout its 31 years, SXSW has been a beacon of consistency, standing with artists and participants regarding equality, tolerance, and safety during events,” they said in their letter. 

"SB4, 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.”

Although Swenson condemned the law, he said the festival will remain in the city of Austin.

“We agree with the Senators that the law stands diametrically opposed to the spirit of SXSW and respect their call to action,” Swenson said. “For us this is not a solution. 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.”

Government sophomore Fabiola Barreto said she thinks the senators’ request highlights the economic ramifications of SB 4 and the effect the law will have on SXSW. Barreto said businesses may leave or not come to Texas because of SB 4, and that Menendez’s and Masto’s request is evidence of this.

“The city of Austin, however, has stood firmly against SB 4 and has already filed a lawsuit against it,” Barreto said. “SXSW, if you ask me, is a part of Austin and adds on to what makes this beautiful and accepting city what it is. I feel as though speakers will be more hesitant to show up to the festival, present, etc. because of hateful laws such as SB 4 which could affect SXSW later on.”