Thursday, March 23, 2017

Italian band banned from US after landing in Seattle

An Italian rock band was denied entry to the United States then deported after being held in jail. The band was traveling under ESTA the Visa Waiver Program when it landed in Seattle on Wednesday afternoon.

The ESTA program allows citizens of nearly 40 countries to travel to the US without a visa. The band of three, called the Soviet Soviet is based in Pesaro Italy. ESTA is often used by bands when they are only performing with no pay as in promotional tours or attending festivals. ESTA cannot be used for performances at which the performers are paid. Perhaps the band should have renamed itself before trying to enter as the Soviet Soviet. America First or Trump Trump would probably be sufficient to obtain entry.
Friday afternoon, the group posted a lengthy statement on Facebook explaining why it would not be keeping its U.S. tour dates this week and next. The Facebook page has a detailed account of what happened to them:We left Italy headed towards the US with all necessary documents, passports and various declarations in which we clearly explained the purpose of our tour, confirming it is was strictly promotional and that we were in no way going to earn money from it or receive any form of payment. We knew that if we were to receive any compensation we would have had to apply for work visas.
The control agents did a quick check of the concerts they would be giving and found that at two organizers were asking for entry fees. It did not matter that the band were not receiving any pay from the fees, the agents decided that a work visa was needed. The band members argued in vain that the documents showed they would receive no pay for performances. From the time of being denied entry until deported the band insisted they were treated like criminals:They took our digital fingerprints and took mugshots of us for their file. They confiscated our cell phones and we were denied the possibility of contacting our families and loved ones. Around 10:30pm, two prison officers frisked us, handcuffed us and brought us to jail in a police car. We spent the night in jail and had been escorted there as though we were three criminals. The following day, after having completed all jail-related procedures (mugshots, declaration of good health and signatures), two other agents came to get us. We were searched, handcuffed and again escorted in a police car.
Among the letters the trio had with them one was from its US record label explaining that the band was performing a number of unpaid promotional concerts that included a live performance at radio station KEXP as well as at the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival in Austin Texas. KEXP issued a short statement on the issue:"Yesterday, Thursday, March 9th, Italian trio Soviet Soviet were scheduled to perform live on The Morning Show on KEXP. Their sophomore album Endless was released on felte Records back in December, and with its dark, anthemic, post-punk sound, quickly became a favorite on the KEXP airwaves. Unfortunately, the in-studio — as well as their scheduled performances at Kremwerk, SXSW, and venues along the west coast — had to be canceled. ... KEXP sincerely hopes we'll be able to reschedule a session with the band in the near future."
SWSX starts on March 13. In 2016 nearly 600 foreign acts were showcased. The SWSX has already been in difficulty with some of those contracted to perform. Musicians have accused the SXSW officials of threatening foreign performers with deportation if they appear outside of official festival venues. A drummer Felix Walworth head of the band Told Slant cancelled his appearance tweeting: "I'm not interested in aligning myself with an institution that interacts with immigration authorities as a means of ... controlling where art is shared and performed, and who makes money off of it." Reactions to the SWSX threats ended up in a letter of apology and a promise to revise their language.
Brian Goldstein a prominent immigration attorney, who specializes in working with artists to tour the US said of the new immigration regulations:"Given that the new Order specifically requires heightened vetting and screening of those 'who seek to enter the United States on a fraudulent basis', there is going to be even more scrutiny and less forgiveness than ever before with regard to artists attempting to enter the US on visitor visas (B-1/B-2) or through the Visa Waiver Program ('ESTA'). We are already receiving reports of artists being held and detained for hours upon entering the US to determine whether or not they are performing. Even artists entering as visitors for the purpose of attending a conference or 'performing a showcase' are being pulled aside and, in many cases, being refused entry. Artists entering with B-1/B-2 visas or through the Visa Waiver Program (ESTA) are being pulled aside the moment they say that they are 'entertainers', 'performers', or 'artists.' ... In short, an Immigration Officer has the unfettered authority and discretion to deny entry to any artist from any nationality for any reason. To what extent this authority will be exercised remains to be seen."Goldberg noted that the existing regulations about visitors and ESTA visas do not protect artists sufficiently. Goldstein said agents often simply define work as simply performing even if there is no direct pay. Goldstein recommended that artists get an "O" or "P" work visas designed for working entertainers.
Foreign entertainers may simply decide it is not worth coming to US festivals or have promotional tours in the US.


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