Chaos broke out on the floor of the Texas House of Representatives Monday after Rep. Matt Rinaldi said he called US Immigration and Customs Enforcement on protestors and threatened to shoot a colleague in self-defense.
The incident occurred on the last day of the legislative session during which hundreds of people chanted in protest of SB 4, a bill that was recently signed into law that makes it a crime for police officers and sheriffs to not cooperate with federal immigration enforcement or inquire about a detainee's immigration status.
In a statement, Rinaldi, a Republican, said Texas Rep. Poncho Nevárez, a Democrat, threatened his life after Rinaldi called ICE on the protestors. He also accused Rep. Ramon Romero of physically assaulting him. Rinaldi also said Nevárez threatened to “get me on the way to my car.”
“He later approached me and reiterated that ‘I had to leave at some point, and he would get me,’” Rinaldi wrote. “I made it clear that if he attempted to, in his words, ‘get me,’ I would shoot him in self defense.”
Rinaldi did not return calls or emails for comment.
Rep. Cesar Blanco, a Democrat from El Paso, said that as protesters began hanging banners from the gallery balcony, Rinaldi approached Blanco and a group of other Mexican-American legislators who were on the floor. According to Blanco, Rinaldi “came to us and said he had made a phone call to ICE [and] that he was happy that many of these people would be deported.”
Blanco, who also said other Republicans had allegedly made calls to ICE during the protest, argued the reaction was racially motivated.
“They don’t know if any of these folks are US citizens or not. They were just brown,” Blanco said.
Likewise, U.S. House Rep. Joaquin Castro, a Democrat, also denounced Rinaldi for deciding “to call ICE just because he saw a bunch of people who were a shade darker. That’s wrong.”
On Twitter, Nevárez called Rinaldi a liar and weak.
“He's a liar and hateful man. Got no use for him. God bless him,” Nevárez said.
Rinaldi said he was currently under the protection of the Department of Public Safety (DPS) because of the incident.
DPS started pulling banners from protestors inside the legislature and eventually removed them as they chanted “We are here to stay.” SB 4 goes into effect on Sept. 1 and is already being challenged in court by local jurisdictions and police departments.
The approximately 300 protesters filled the chamber's viewing gallery just before the session was began at 10 a.m. Just before 11 a.m., activists began dropping a series of banners from the gallery's railings, chanting, and singing. Although police forcefully removed about a dozen protesters, none were arrested, according to organizers.
Eventually police cleared the gallery entirely, and the protesters joined nearly a thousand other activists in the State House rotunda, marching through its halls and chanting slogans against the law for the next hour.
Astrid Dominguez, immigration policy strategist of the ACLU of Texas, said Rinaldi should apologize for his hateful rhetoric about peaceful protestors exercising their constitutional rights.
“Rinaldi's actions prove that anti-immigrant legislation like SB4 is motivated by animus and has already led to discrimination and racial profiling,” Dominguez said in a statement.