AUSTIN – South by Southwest festival organizers are rejecting a call by two Democratic senators to relocate the conference and festival after Gov. Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 4 into law, outlawing sanctuary cities in Texas.
The letter from Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) to SXSW CEO Roland Swenson requests the annual event be moved “to a different state until Texas terminates its harmful, shameful immigration policies.”
“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 wrote. “In its 31 years, SXSW has been a beacon of consistency, standing with artists and participants regarding equality, tolerance, and safety during events. 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. 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.”
SXSW said that the 2016 festival brought approximately $325 million to the Austin economy.
Menendez and Cortez Masto cited in a release how SB 4 mirrors Arizona’s 2010 “show me your papers” law. The law was challenged all the way to the Supreme Court, with the court ruling 5-3 to uphold that law’s provision regarding immigration status checks during traffic stops, but struck down other provisions.
Senate Bill 4 is set to go into effect Sept. 1, and will require all Texas law enforcement to honor ICE detainers. Those detainers are voluntary requests to hold someone who has been arrested in jail while their immigration status is investigated.
SXSW issued the following statement to KVUE regarding the letter:
"We stand by the City of Austin in their 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. We understand why, in today’s political climate, people are asking us to leave Texas.
"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."
Austin Mayor Steve Adler also responded to the letter from the senators. TAP HERE for the full text.
Legal challenges to the law have been filed by Austin, San Antonio and a handful of organizations. Austin’s legal challenge states SB 4 violates the Supremacy Clause of the constitution which states the US government has exclusive authority over immigration, not cities.