According to Seattle-based radio station KEXP, Italian post-punk band Soviet Soviet was unable to attend an in-studio performance scheduled for Thursday, March 9 due to being detained, arrested and deported by officers with the Department of Homeland Security. The station posted a statement from the band in which they explained the ordeal that began upon arrival in Seattle on Wednesday, March 8.
The band explains that they made their way through security with their ESTA visa, a letter from their label and a written invitation from SXSW. The letter from their label explained that the band was in the United States in order to promote their new album Endless. The band’s drummer, Ale actually made it through security after explaining that the band was performing a series of concerts and would not be making any money in the country. Then, the band’s guitarist (who is also named Ale) and other member Andrea told their officers the same thing, but were held back.
The explains that the three band members were then “all called back and interrogated individually, in three different rooms.” After four hours of questioning and failing to get the agents in touch with their label, the agents told Soviet Soviet their decision. The band would be deported and denied entry into the United States and declared illegal immigrants. They were then fingerprinted and mugshots were taken while not being allowed to make contact with their friends, family or business associates. According to the statement, at this point it was around 10:30 and the three men were frisked and handcuffed. They ended up spending the night in jail and were treated ” as though we were three criminals.”
The next day two different agents came to retrieve the musicians, at which point they were searched again and handcuffed, escorted to police cars and brought to the customs office they were at the previous day. They were finally given their phones and bags. They conclude the statement with this:
“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. This was not the case and the people we spoke to for information told us we would be fine. We had not agreed on any payment whatsoever and the scheduled showcase performance at KEXP was most certainly not a paid performance. The point is that the control agents who did a quick check on the concerts we informed them of noticed that two of the venues were asking for entry fees and this was enough to convince them that we needed work visas instead of an ESTA.
We accepted this situation even if we tried to no end to explain the situation and that we were not receiving any form of payment, but there was simply no way of convincing the officials we spoke to. From that moment onwards, we became three illegal immigrants and were treated like criminals.”
The story was recently updated with a statement from the Department of Homeland Security when KEXP asked if the use of prison cells and handcuffs is their standard operating procedure in these sorts of situations with an improper visa.
“When a traveler is deemed inadmissible, CBP makes every effort to return the traveler without delay. CBP does not have an overnight detention facility at the airport. Therefore, it is standard procedure for any traveler who is deemed inadmissible and is awaiting return travel to be taken to a detention center until return travel is available. According to CBP policy, it is standard procedure to restrain a traveler who is being transported to a detention facility. The use of restraints on detainees during transport is in a manner that is safe, secure, humane, and professional. It is the responsibility of officers to ensure that the need and level of restraints used is consistent with the operational office’s policies and procedures. At no time are restraints used in a punitive manner or in a manner that causes detainees undue pain.”
More on this story as it evolves.