Texas Capitol on Memorial Day 2017, end of racist, bigoted, woman-hating, anti-local control state legislative session. No public galleries. pic.twitter.com/jN4YNovpFs— Margot C. (@margot_inAustin) May 29, 2017
Hundreds of people wearing red shirts emblazoned with the words "fight back" and holding placards swarmed the Texas House of Representatives to protest the state's recently passed anti-immigrant law – better known as Senate Bill 4 or SB-4, which bans so-called sanctuary cities and carries penalties for those who do not cooperate with federal authorities’ requests to detain undocumented immigrants.
After protesting outside the building, the demonstrators made their way inside the Texas House gallery and unfurled banners, their loud chants briefly drowning out proceedings at the final day of the legislative session, prompting state troopers to intervene and clear the room.
It was a reportedly a peaceful protest until a Republican lawmaker told members of the House’s Mexican American Legislative Caucus that he had called the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement because, according to him, some protesters were chanting, “I am illegal and here to stay.”
Did state Rep. Matt Rinaldi just assume the protesters would be undocumented since most of them belonged to minority communities?
Well, he claims he only called the ICE to encourage the pro-immigrant rights group to leave.
“We called law enforcement trying to incentivize them to leave the House,” he told the Texas Tribune. “They were disrupting. They were breaking the law.”
A statement regarding today. pic.twitter.com/M0BcBXa43P— Matt Rinaldi (@MattRinaldiTX) May 29, 2017
However, Rep. Ramon Romero Jr. quoted Rinaldi saying “F*** them, I called ICE” after making the call. Other witnesses said the GO lawmaker “got into people’s faces” and said, “I’m glad I just called ICE to have all these people deported.”
Rinaldi’s actions reportedly caused a scuffle to break out on the House floor, as lawmakers began shoving and shouting at each other.
“For us, this looks like the fabric of Texas, and this looks like Texans exercising their First Amendment right against a law that they perceive to be hateful and unjust,” Chairman Caucus Rep. Rafael Anchía (D) said about the group of protesters. “That is a cornerstone of our democracy.”
During a particularly tense moment, Rinaldi also allegedly threatened to “put a bullet” in the head of Rep. Poncho Nevárez (D).
“There was a subsequent exchange between my brother Poncho and Representative Rinaldi and there was a threat made from Rinaldi to put a bullet in one of my colleague’s heads,” Rep. Justin Rodriguez (D) told reporters. “That kind of threatening language, he needs to be called out and held accountable for.”
Rinaldi, in turn, accused Nevárez of repeatedly threatening him with violence.
“I made it clear that if he attempted to, in his words, ‘get me,’ I would shoot him in self defense,” he said in an interview. “I would shoot him in self defense. I am currently under DPS protection.”
“Matt Rinaldi gave the perfect example of why there’s a problem with SB 4,” Romero added. “Matt Rinaldi looked into the gallery and saw Hispanic people and automatically assumed they were undocumented. He racial profiled every single person that was in the gallery today. He created the scenario that so many of us fear.”
As the Texas Observer noted, the latest House dispute was the latest in several controversial moments around the Senate Bill 4, which is supposed to go into effect from September.
President Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric has left immigrants across the country worried for their safety. According to recent reports, ICE arrests have jumped 40 percent under the Trump administration.