It all started with a mariachi band and megaphones outside the governor's mansion at 3 a.m. Monday.
The protests against SB 4, the anti-sanctuary-cities law that immigrant-rights advocates call racist, would continue for the next 12 or so hours in Austin, as hundreds of protesters swarmed the capitol grounds and galleries. The otherwise ceremonial and celebratory final day of the legislative session turned into a vehicle for loud dissent.
And apparently, Representative Matt Rinaldi (R-Dallas) just couldn't handle the noise.
Rinaldi admitted to calling U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on the protesters because he saw some people holding signs that said, "I am illegal and here to stay." Democrats reported that he said, "Fuck them — I called ICE," prompting a scuffle on the House floor that looked like a mosh pit of red-faced people yelling in different directions. But mostly at Rinaldi.
"We saw mothers and fathers, military veterans, American citizens and non-citizens alike in the crowd," Representative Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas) said at a news conference. "So for us, this looks like the fabric of Texas. This looks like Texans exercising their First Amendment rights against a law they perceive to be hateful and unjust. That is a cornerstone of our democracy. To others, I guess it appeared like a group of undocumented persons in the gallery somehow doing something unlawful who needed to be deported."
The scuffle on the House floor broke out while House leaders were thanking clerks and assistants for all their hard work this session. Meanwhile, Rinaldi said in a statement that Democrats physically threatened him and that he is now under Department of Public Safety protection.
"Today, Representative Poncho Nevarez threatened my life 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.' Several Democrats encouraged the protestors 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. 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 DPS protection. Several of my colleagues heard the threats made and witnessed Ramon assaulting me."
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If Rinaldi thought that spooking the protesters would cause them to flee, he apparently thought wrong. Throngs of people remained in the rotunda even after the final gavel.
The ACLU of Texas, which recently joined a lawsuit against the state over SB 4, called on Rinaldi to issue a public apology for calling ICE.
"His hateful rhetoric about peaceful protesters exercising their constitutional rights goes against everything we stand for as Texans," said Astrid Dominguez, immigration policy strategist of the ACLU of Texas. "Representative Rinaldi's actions prove that anti-immigrant legislation like SB4 is motivated by animus and has already led to discrimination and racial profiling. Every Texas legislator should denounce this behavior and make clear Texas is not a state of hate."