A huge protest against Texas’ new sanctuary city law interrupted the last day of the state Legislature’s regular session on Monday.
Several Democrats and Texas State Rep. Matt Rinaldi (R-Irving) had an exchange of strong, angry words on the floor of the state House.
A number of members reported that Rinaldi told several Hispanic lawmakers that he had called for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials to arrest the protestors.
“He came up to us and said, ‘I’m glad I just called ICE to have all these people deported,’” state Rep. Cesar Blanco (D-El Paso) told the Texas Tribune.
In Rinaldi’s defense, he said that he called ICE because he didn’t really know how to handle such a large protest.
“A lot of people had signs that said, ‘We are illegal and here to stay,'” he told the paper. “And we called law enforcement trying to incentivize them to leave the House. They were disrupting. They were breaking the law.”
He said he was “pushed, jostled and someone threatened to kill me. It was basically just bullying.”
Fort Worth Democratic Rep. Ramon Romero Jr. said that Rinaldi “gave the perfect example of why there’s a problem with SB 4,” which has been signed into law by Governor Greg Abbott. The law requires counties and cities to comply with federal immigration authorities’ requests that law enforcement agencies arrest and detain individuals that are suspected of being undocumented.
“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,” Romero added.
He told The Austin American-Statesman that Rinaldi “felt like he needed to call ICE” even though officers from the Texas Department of Public Safety were removing protestors from House galleries.
Rinaldi however argued that Democrats had tried to incite a riot by encouraging protestors. He further added that Democrats threatened his life on the floor.
“Today Representative [Alfonso] “Poncho” Nevarez [D-Eagle Pass] threatened me on the House floor after I called ICE on several illegal immigrants who held signs in the gallery which said ‘I am illegal and here to stay,'” he wrote on Facebook. “Several Democrats encouraged the protesters to disobey law enforcement.”
“When I told the Democrats I called ICE, Representative Ramon Romero physically assaulted me, and other Democrats were held back by colleagues,” Rinaldi added.
“During that time Poncho told me that he would ‘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 vowed to defend himself against Nevarez.
“I made it clear that if he attempted to, in his words, ‘get me,’ I would shoot him in self defense. I am currently under DPS protection. Several of my colleagues heard the threats made and witnessed Ramon assaulting me.”