On Monday, the final day of the Texas state legislative session was especially chaotic after State Rep. Matt Rinaldi called Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to assess the status of protesters demonstrating in opposition to the state’s new sanctuary city law. Rinaldi’s actions angered Hispanic House members, leading to a brief confrontation and, allegedly, threats of violence.
After the incident, Rinaldi released a statement on Facebook stating that Rep. Poncho Nevarez “threatened my life on the House floor after I called ICE on several illegal immigrants who held signs I the gallery which said ‘I am illegal and here to stay.’”
He stated, “Several Democrats encouraged the protestors to disobey law enforcement,” continuing, “When I told the Democrats I called ICE, Representative Ramon Romero physically assaulted me, and other Democrats were held back by colleagues.”
Rinaldi went on to say, “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.’ 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 [Department of Public Safety] protection.”
He closed, “Several of my colleagues heard the threats made and witnessed Ramon assaulting me.”
As reported by WFAA, Hispanic Democratic members of the House stated the incident wasn’t physical, though did say Rinaldi was acting aggressively and cursed repeatedly.
State Rep. Cesar Blanco said, “[Rinaldi] came up to us and said, ‘I’m glad I just called ICE to have these people deported.’”
Romero stated, “[Rinaldi] said, ‘I called ICE – fuck them,” and that Rinaldi later turned toward nearby Democratic lawmakers and shouted, “Fuck you,” to the “pint where spit was hitting” them in the face.
A video showing the altercation on the House floor show members from both sides of the aisle pushing and shoving each other.
During a press conference after the incident, Rep Justin Rodriguez stated Rinaldi had made threats of his own, including one to “put a bullet” in the head of a fellow House member.
The law being protested, which is already signed into law through State Bill 4, requires all cities and counties to cooperate with requests from federal immigration authorities regarding the detainment of suspected illegal immigrants. The legislation also prevents local authorities from implementing policies that prevent law enforcement officials, such as police officers, from asking questions about a person’s immigration status.
This law has some people concerned it could lead to racial profiling.
Romero went on to say Rinaldi’s actions were “the perfect example of why there’s a problem with SB 4.” He went on to say, “Matt Rinaldi looked into the gallery and saw Hispanic people and automatically assumed they were undocumented. He racially profiled every single person that was in the gallery today. He created the scenario that so many of us fear.”
Rinaldi defended his decision to contact ICE saying the intent was “to incentivize [the protesters] to leave the house.” He went on to say, “They were disrupting,” and asserted “they were breaking the law” when the actions of the protesters stalled House proceedings.