As hundreds of protesters stormed the Texas state Capitol and political tensions soaring over a recently approved anti-immigration law, scuffles and apparent threats of deadly violence between lawmakers broke out Monday as their legislative session ended in dramatic fashion.
The confrontation between lawmakers happened as immigrants and their allies were out in force showing their opposition to the Republican-controlled legislature which earlier this month approved a measure, known as SB 4, which after being signed by Governor Greg Abbott, made so-called “sanctuary” immigration ordinances illegal in Texas.
While the gallery and adjoining rotunda were filled with protesters chanting “Here to stay!” in matching red t-shirts and holding banners, things became so heated on House floor that one Republican lawmaker, who claimed his safety had been threatened, said at one point that he would “shoot” one of his Democratic colleagues.
Republican Texas State Rep. Matt Rinaldi, according to witnesses, threatened to “put a bullet through the head” of Democratic State Rep. Poncho Nevarez amid clashes on the House floor.
According to accounts of the incident, Rinaldi enraged Democratic lawmakers—including Nevarez, Rep. Ramon Romero, and others—by repeatedly telling them he had called Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents on “all of them”—as he gestured to the many Latino protesters voicing opposition to the controversial state law that would compel local police and sheriff’s deputies to inquire about the legal status of people suspected of criminal behavior or lesser infractions such speeding or parking tickets.
Democratic lawmakers condemned Rinaldi’s behavior during a press conference following the altercation:
In the wake of Monday’s dramatic events, Texas Rep. Cesar Blanco (D-El Paso), called Rinaldi’s behavior emblematic of the overt racism that has come to dominate the Republican Party’s approach to immigration policy.
“Earlier today on the Texas House Floor, Rep. Rinaldi said, in regards to SB 4 protesters, “I called I.C.E…. Fuck them.” If that is not racism, I don’t know what is,” said Blanco in a statement. “I am deeply disappointed in his comments and attitude towards Hispanics and immigrants. His phone call to ICE to detain Hispanic protesters and immigrants only highlights the institutional racism this body embraced this session by passing SB 4.”
Blanco subsequently said that his office was now receiving an influx of hateful anti-immigrant messages and posted this video on Twitter:
— Cesar Blanco (@CesarJBlanco) May 29, 2017
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