EXIT Theatre founder Christina Augello spent a year's work and nearly $3,000 to bring Paul David Power's play Crippled to San Francisco. But just weeks before the show was set to debut at her Tenderloin performance space, she received a letter from United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)—an agency that works parallel to ICE under the Department of Homeland Security—stating that Power has been denied permission to perform in the United States on the basis that Crippled is not "culturally unique."
Augello argues that, as a law enforcement agency, USCIS is not qualified to judge an artistic production's uniqueness or artistic merit. She says that the decision was unfairly arbitrary, as she submitted letters of support from credible organizations such as Canada Council on the Arts, Actors' Equity Association, the National Arts Centre of Canada and the San Francisco-based Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability attesting to the play's singular depiction of a gay lead with disabilities grappling with the loss of his partner.
Still, the denial letter Augello received from USCIS reads, "The contract, electric correspondences and itinerary you provided is insufficient because it did not provide any details to demonstrate that all of the performances or presentations will be culturally unique events."
"For them to be in charge of saying Paul can't bring his show there—they don’t have their expertise," Augello says. "These [artists] are able to come here [as tourists]. They’re not a threat to our safety."
The denial letter Augello received from USCIS stipulates that EXIT Theatre has a month to appeal the decision, but Augello says the opportunity has already passed to produce Crippled this season. She says that current policy for allowing international artists to perform in the United States is too restrictive for independent artists like the ones she works with.