The Texas Legislature erupted in chaos on Monday, the last day of the legislative session, amid large protests in the State Capitol building, and threats between lawmakers, the Texas Tribune reported.
Hundreds of protesters dressed in red t-shirts gathered in the Texas House gallery carrying banners and signs and chanting in opposition to Senate Bill 4, the so-called “sanctuary cities” ban signed into law earlier this month by Governor Greg Abbot.
State Rep. Matt Rinaldi from Irving, Texas said that he called Immigration and Customs Enforcement on the protesters, some of whom, he says, were carrying signs that read “I am illegal and here to stay.”
The protests became so loud that the House had to take a break from activities and the Department of Public Safety decided to clear the protesters from the gallery. During the break, some Democratic lawmakers looked up to the protesters and clapped, Texas House Democrats told The Texas Tribune.
— Ramon Romero Jr. (@RepRamonRomero) May 29, 2017
An altercation between Rinaldi and several House Democrats, many of whom were Hispanic, took place shortly after. The lawmakers told the Tribune that Rinaldi came up to them repeatedly and said he had called ICE “to have all these people deported” and yelled “F—k them” and “F—k you.”
Rinaldi said that he was angry because the lawmakers were “bragging” about the protesters breaking House rules, which prohibit any display of support or opposition from the gallery.
“We jawed back and forth and one of them physically assaulted me and another threatened my life, actually,” Rinaldi told the Tribune. In a statement, Rinaldi claimed that state Rep. Poncho Nevàrez of Eagle Pass threatened his life and told him that he would “get [him] on the way to [his] car.”
Here’s video of the altercation:
ICYMI: Shoving on the floor of the Texas House today after Rep. Matt Rinaldi, R-Farmers Branch, said he called ICE on protesters. (via KVUE) pic.twitter.com/NbJFy2wdGD
— Jason Whitely (@JasonWhitely) May 29, 2017
Nevàrez told the Tribune that he didn’t threaten Rinaldi’s life, but suggested that they take their argument out of the House floor.
“He’s a liar and hateful man. Got no use for him. God bless him,” Nevàrez tweeted later.
Rinaldi said in a statement that he told Nevàrez he would “shoot him in self-defense” if Nevàrez acted on the perceived threat.
A statement regarding today. pic.twitter.com/M0BcBXa43P
— Matt Rinaldi (@MattRinaldiTX) May 29, 2017
SB4 , set to take effect Sept. 1, will allow police officers to question people on their immigration statuses if they are arrested or detained. It will also allow local officials to be charged with a Class A misdemeanor if they knowingly fail to comply with federal requests to detain suspected unauthorized immigrants.
Many of the Democratic lawmakers said Rinaldi’s action was a “perfect example” of the problem with SB4.
“Matt Rinaldi looked into the gallery and saw Hispanic people and automatically assumed they were undocumented, state Rep. Ramon Romero of Fort Worth told the Tribune. “He racially profiled every single person that was in the gallery today. He created the scenario that so many of us fear.”
Authorities soon broke up the protest in the gallery, with protesters continuing outside the state capitol building.