There are advantages to being a “post-punk” Italian rock band denied entry to the U.S. at Sea-Tac and deported back: The trio Soviet Soviet now has more than 42,000 Facebook followers.
They’re back in Italy now, the “post-punk” rock trio that goes by the name Soviet Soviet and got themselves denied entry to the U.S. Wednesday afternoon after landing at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
The group was on the way to play free gigs to promote themselves at the world-famous South by Southwest arts festival in Austin. They had coughed up some $5,300 for travel expenses.
Oops, said a Customs and Border Patrol agent at the airport.
OK, he probably didn’t actually say “Oops.” What agents did was question the band for three hours about their travel documents.
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That’s a long time to be sweating it out, as anyone who has traveled and faced an immigration officer for even a couple of minutes can attest.
Writes band member Alessandro Ferri, 32, in an email from his hometown of Paso by the Adriatic Sea, “They asked us our info (the name of our parents, their dates of birth, our city etc. all the infos about our life).
“They asked us about … gigs and all the infos about these shows: if they will pay us, how much they will pay, they asked us why there were ticket for these shows and our future plans.”
Then the trio was handcuffed, taken to the Federal Detention Center in a police car, searched, photographed and put back on a flight to Italy the next day.
The band wrote on its Facebook page, “We were relieved to fly back home and distance ourselves from that violent, stressful and humiliating situation.”
The group added, “We became three illegal immigrants and were treated like criminals.”
As of Sunday, more than 1,800 people had commented on the incident on the band’s Facebook page.
A typical comment read, “I’m so sorry this happened. It’s inexcusable. We in Seattle like to think of ourselves as progressive and we are somewhat sheltered from the bull—-, but Trump’s insipid ways have infiltrated even here.”
Many blamed the controversy over President Donald Trump’s immigration ban and his promise to tighten America’s borders, but there was no evidence that played any role in the band’s immigration problems.
Jason Givens, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said he could not discuss specific cases, but he pointed out an “internationally recognized entertainment group” has to be granted something called a P-1 visa, specifically for entertainers.
But even that visa “does not guarantee entry” and it’s still up to the officer at the airport, Givens said, adding there are more than 60 grounds for inadmissibility, including health, security, criminality and the all-encompassing “miscellaneous grounds.”
The band believes the issue was over a misunderstanding about whether they were going to be paid.
The band says, “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.”
South by Southwest did not respond to a request for comment.
The band members were traveling under the Visa Waiver Program, also known as ESTA. Their understanding was that they could do that, as they were playing for free, and so didn’t need a work visa.
The band says on its Facebook page that the agents “did a quick check on the concerts we informed them of (and) 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.”
So off to the detention center they went.
“Yes, the cuffs hurt,” says Ferri, who says this was his first-ever dealing with law enforcement.
He says that the officers “were serious and professional,” and that the band’s cellphones were taken away and not returned until just before their flight out of Seattle.
The trio was kept overnight in the same cell. A TV was tuned to a sports channel, Ferri says. Breakfast was “milk, some meat, potatoes and other foods.”
He says the U. S. government purchased their airfare back to Italy; they departed early Thursday afternoon.
The band, which isn’t exactly well known, does realize the plus side of the incident.
“Sure it helped, some people discovered us for this reason,” Ferri says.
The band’s Facebook page had 42,271 followers as of 8 p.m. Sunday.
Make that 42,272.