SXSW CEO and co-founder Roland Swenson says moving the festival out of Texas would not be a solution to protest Senate Bill 4, the state's new "sanctuary cities" law.
"Austin is our home and an integral part of who we are," Swenson said in response to a call from two U.S. senators for the festival to move. "We stand by the City of Austin in their challenge against SB4 and will continue to speak out against it, and all discriminatory legislation."
The city joined a lawsuit filed last week by San Antonio, the Workers Defense Project and the Mexican Legal Defense and Education Fund. The suit alleges the law, which requires jurisdictions to comply with all warrantless federal immigration detainer requests, is discriminatory and violates the First, Fourth and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.
In an open letter to Swenson, Democratic Sens. Bob Menendez of New Jersey and Catherine Masto of Nevada called on SXSW organizers to relocate the annual festival outside Texas "until the recent anti-immigration SB4 law is repealed or overturned by the courts."
The senators said SB 4 would lead to racial profiling and discrimination.
"If SB4 is implemented on September 1, 2017, Texas residents and those who travel to Texas to attend your festival may be subject to constitutional violations if stopped by law enforcement," they said in the letter.
Swenson said organizers agree that the law stands "diametrically opposed to the spirit of SXSW," but said holding it elsewhere was not the answer.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler said in a statement asking SXSW to leave Austin is "the most ridiculous thing" he has ever heard.
"There are few greater expressions of Austin’s spirit and soul than SXSW," he wrote. "In Austin, we welcome refugees, immigrants, people of all persuasions, religions, ethnicities, and orientations – even Senators from New Jersey and Nevada. There is no greater way to protest what is happening in Texas than to be yourself in Austin. Do not call on SXSW to leave Austin."
Governor Greg Abbott signed SB 4 into law last month. It is slated to go into effect Sept. 1, if it's not blocked by the courts.
The festival came under fire in March when a musician highlighted language in the festival's contract that suggested SXSW could contact federal immigration agents about a performer under certain circumstances.
Organizers initially defended the language, which they said had been in the contract for years, but ultimately said they would remove it next year.