Before Cherine Amr and her metal band Massive Scar Era reached the Canadian-American border, Amr thought she had taken care of everything. The band had three shows in the states, one of them during the renowned South By Southwest (SXSW) music festival in Austin, Texas, and Amr, an Egyptian citizen living in Canada, had visited the Egyptian embassy beforehand to ensure she had the proper paperwork.
But the agent at the border crossing near Seattle saw Amr’s Egyptian passport and told the band to wait. After several hours, the agent informed the group that they had to turn around because they didn’t have the proper visa to play SXSW. The band had B-1 visas (for tourists) and they were told they needed P-2 visas.
“I told him we had played twice at SXSW already, and I had my visa issued from the Cairo embassy under the impression that we were going to play,” Amr said in a phone interview Monday. “He said, ‘Just because a person gave you this visa doesn’t mean its lawful.'”
The issue wasn’t the two free shows in Denver and Utah the band had scheduled for after the festival — the agent was fine with those, according to Amr. It was specifically the SXSW show.
Amr says she called a SXSW representative who was willing to speak with the agent but he wouldn’t take the phone. Worst of all, the agent said the band’s bassist, Dylan Pieter Wijdenes-Charles, couldn’t cross the border either, even though he’s First Nation. Per the Jay Treaty of 1794, Wijdenes-Charles should’ve been able to cross the border without any issues since he carried an identification card provided by his tribe.
“[The agent] looked at Dylan and said, ‘Regarding you, of course you’re welcome into the United States whenever you want to. However, you should’ve brought a DNA test,'” Amr said.
Before the band made their way back to their hometown of Vancouver, Amr recorded a Facebook Live video where she described her experiences. As of press time, it had almost 9,000 views.
Massive Scar Era was one of three bands headed to SXSW that was stopped from entering the states within the past week. Last Thursday, the Italian post-punk band Soviet Soviet was held an airport for several hours before being deported, despite having booked a full tour. (Read about why it happened here.) On Monday afternoon, the London-based record label Brownswood Recordings announced that two of its bands, Yussef Kamaal and United Vibrations, had to cancel their SXSW shows because their members had their visas revoked “at the 11th hour.”
“The situation is infuriating and desperately unfair to all involved,” Brownswood Recordings wrote on their Facebook page. “The fact that the visa was issued and then revoked has left no time to appeal the decision as the band were due to travel tomorrow.”
Amr said she cried after being denied from entering the United States. She had left Egypt in 2015 to escape the oppressive political climate only to be held back by the politics of a different nation.
“[The agent] actually said, ‘Well, some people are using SXSW to protest,'” Amr said. “I am sure [the denial] was political.”
Egypt isn’t one of the six Muslim-majority countries included in President Donald Trump’s revised travel ban, but Amr said it was clear that the agent had an issue with her ethnicity. On top of the discrimination, Amr is also angry about her plans — in which she invested heavily — being ruined. She had found new band members just to play these shows, and the band had invested over $1,000 in the tour (equipment, plane tickets, and more) that they won’t be getting back, she said.
“We don’t have anything — anything — against the U.S.,” Amr said. “We just wanted to get in, play our shows, promote ourselves and go back, you know?”