Italian rock band Soviet Soviet was scheduled to perform next week at the South by Southwest Music Festival, but according to a statement from the band posted on Facebook, they were forced to cancel their festival appearances and a few other promotional appearances when they were denied entry to the United States, detained and deported Wednesday.
According to the band, when they arrived in Seattle, they provided passport control officers with documentation that they were traveling under the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, a letter from their American record label declaring that the band was in the country for promotional purposes only and their letter of invitation from SXSW.
The three band members say they were detained and individually interrogated by customs agents. During this time, they say, they were able to put the agents in touch with the American owner of their record label, who pleaded their case. Still after four hours of interrogation, the customs agents decided to send them back to Italy.
“They declared us illegal immigrants even if our intention was by no means to look for work in the United States,” the band said in the statement.
The band says after they were denied entry to the United States, their cellphones were confiscated before they were able to notify their families of their situation and they were taken to jail.
“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,” the band’s statement says.
The band members say they were handcuffed and driven by police car back to the same customs office where their ordeal began. They were booked on a flight back to Italy, and they say, finally had their cellphones returned roughly an hour before the flight was scheduled to take off.
In the statement, in which the band members say they were “treated like criminals,” they reiterate that they understood that their visa prevented them from earning money while in the Unites States and they had no intention of violating the visa terms.
They were scheduled to do a radio performance at Seattle NPR affiliate KEXP before heading to Austin.
KEXP staffers reached out to Homeland Security, which maintained that the band did not have the proper visa. When they asked “whether the use of prison cells and handcuffs is standard operating procedure for musicians arriving without a proper visa,” they received the following statement about Customs and Border Patrol policy:
“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.”