In mid-March, a wave of SXSW-bound international artists were denied entry into the U.S., including Chilean band Trementina and Spanish rapper Yung Beef. Weeks after the end of the Texas music festival, yet another international artist is facing difficulty entering the U.S. for a performance.
On the morning of April 11, Catalan electronic producer beGun (aka Gunsal Moreno) posted a video on his Facebook page claiming he and his touring partner Marcel Bago were detained in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where U.S. immigration officials hold jurisdiction. On their way to perform at Ponce Es Ley, an indie arts festival on the island, Bago and Moreno were taken into custody at the Luis Muñoz Marín airport.
In the video, Moreno flashes a Detainee Personal Property Record from Immigration and Customs Enforcement. He explains that he and Bago were denied entry on the basis of what he refers to as “a silly little visa mistake,” after an immigration officer conducted a thorough inspection.
“We were automatically treated like terrorists,” Moreno says in the video. “We were thrown into a room, without any communication with the outside world. We were in a cell on the floor for 24 hours, as though we were rats…all of it under the pretense that we were being sent back to Spain.” After a full day in detention, Moreno explains that he complained to immigration officers and was handcuffed and transferred to San Juan Staging Facility, which appears to be an immigrant detention center. Moreno alleges the pair was detained for three more days before being shipped back to their home country, after a fruitless call to the Spanish Embassy.
In an interview with Spanish magazine TIU, the Catalan producer explains that securing a work visa for a single show is “totally impossible,” so it’s common for artists to “be paid under the table with a tourist visa, under the pretense of an unpaid promotional performance” – the popular “showcase exception” that many artists have used to book shows during SXSW in the past. beGun claims the show promoter told an immigration officer that he was planning to pay the producer “$1,000 in an envelope,” which triggered his arrest and transfer to San Juan Staging Facility.
It is unclear what type of travel documents beGun used to enter the U.S., but many Spanish artists have successfully gained entry under the Visa Waiver Program. The VWP exempts citizens from Spain and other 37 countries from acquiring B1 or B2 visas for tourist and business purposes through the use of an online travel authorization known as ESTA. The program doesn’t allow artists to earn money from live performances in the U.S. – for that they need a type O or P visa qualifying them as “aliens of extraordinary ability in the arts.”
That being said, entry on the VWP is at the discretion of immigration officers. As Customs and Border Patrol told Remezcla in March, “It is important to note that issuance of a visa or a visa waiver does not guarantee entry to the United States.”
Moreno’s account of the detainment resembles the experience of Italian band Soviet Soviet, who spent the night in a detention center before being deported last month. In the Soviet Soviet case, the Department of Homeland Security stated that transfer to a “detention facility” until return travel is available is typical, as is the use of “restraints” on detainees.
Given the tightened regulations surrounding President Trump’s March 6 executive order, which called for enhanced “screening and vetting protocols and procedures associated with the visa-issuance process,” it is likely other foreign artists will continue to have difficulty entering the U.S. using the VWP or other travel documents they have relied on in the past.
This is a developing story. Remezcla is awaiting comment from beGun and will update as more information becomes available.