Hundreds of demonstrators converged on the Texas State Legislature on Monday to protest a controversial immigration bill. But in proof that politics has hit an all time low, one Republican lawmaker responded to the protest by calling Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on demonstrators. Texas state Rep. Matt Rinaldi reported protesters to ICE in a move that enraged many of his fellow legislators and caused chaos to briefly erupt on the House floor.
"I called ICE on several illegal immigrants who held signs in the gallery which said, 'I am illegal and here to stay,'" state Rep. Matt Rinaldi said in a statement released via Twitter shortly after the incident Monday.
Demonstrators touting signs and banners reportedly filled the House gallery Monday in protest of Senate Bill 4, controversial immigration legislation reportedly scheduled to go into effect on Sept. 1. The law bans sanctuary cities in the state of Texas, allows police to question the immigration status of those they detain (as opposed to only those under arrest), and penalizes law enforcement officials who do not fully assist federal immigration authorities with possible jail time.
In statements to the Texas Tribune, state Reps. César Blanco, Armando Walle, and Ramon Romero claimed Rinaldi approached them on the floor of the House and told them he'd reported the protesters to ICE for deportation. "He came up to us and said, 'I'm glad I just called ICE to have all these people deported,'" Blanco alleged.
In a statement released after the incident, Rinaldi alleged Rep. Poncho Nevárez "threatened" his life while Rep. Romero "physically assaulted" him after he told them and other Democratic lawmakers that he'd called ICE on protesters. Rep. Nevárez called Rinaldi "a liar and a hateful man" in a statement released via Twitter. Furthermore, Rep. Romero denied physically assaulting Rinaldi in a statement released via Twitter. Video taken on the House floor shows some legislatures yelling heatedly while pushing and shoving each other.
Rinaldi said he was under the protection of the Department of Public Safety (DPS) since allegedly being threatened by Rep. Nevárez. However, he also admitted to telling his Democratic colleague that he "would shoot him in self defense" should he attempt to follow through with his alleged threat.
While Rinaldi has defended his decision to call ICE on protesters, citing the signs some protesters carried which read "I am illegal," others have pointed to the incident as proof that SB4 could encourage racial profiling and cultivate an environment of fear within the immigrant community.
"Matt Rinaldi gave the perfect example of why there's a problem with SB 4," the Texas Tribune reported Rep. Romero said. "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."