The incident happened as more than 1,000 immigrant rights supporters flooded the Texas Capitol.
A Texas Republican threatened to “put a bullet in one of his colleague’s heads” during a scuffle on the House floor over the state’s new anti-‘sanctuary cities’ law on Monday, the final day of the regular legislative session.
Representative Matt Rinaldi, R-Irving, made the comment to Representative Poncho Nevárez during a dispute that began when Rinaldi told two Hispanic lawmakers that he called Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on Senate Bill 4 protesters at the Capitol.
“There was a subsequent exchange between my brother Poncho and Representative Rinaldi and there was a threat made from Rinaldi to put a bullet in one of my colleague’s heads,” Representative Justin Rodriguez told reporters after the incident. “That kind of threatening language, he needs to be called out and held accountable for.”
Rinaldi later said on Facebook that he called immigration agents “on several illegal immigrants who held signs in the gallery which said ‘I am illegal and here to stay.'” Rinaldi accused Nevárez of repeatedly threatening him on the House floor during the scuffle.
“I made it clear that if he attempted to, in his words, ‘get me,’ I would shoot him in self defense,” Rinaldi said. “I am currently under DPS protection.”
Nevárez responded on Twitter: “He’s a liar and hateful man. Got no use for him. God bless him.”
Nina Pruneda, a spokesperson for ICE, told the Observer she was not immediately sure whether the agency sent immigration agents to the Capitol in response to Rinaldi’s call.
Earlier, at the beginning of the incident, Rinaldi told Romero on the House floor that the hundreds of protesters who were chanting in the gallery were a “disgrace,” Romero told the Observer.
“Fuck them, I called ICE,” Rinaldi said, according to Romero.
Romero said that prompted Representative Cesar Blanco to tell Rinaldi that Italian immigrants “are just like us,” and Rinaldi responded, “Yeah, but we love our country.”
“He saw a bunch of people who look Latino, and he assumed they were undocumented,” Romero told the Observer. “So how can he say SB 4 won’t lead to racial profiling?”
The comments nearly sparked a fight among the three lawmakers before their colleagues broke it up, Romero said.
“I’ve never seen anything like this on the House floor,” Romero said.To support journalism like this, donate to the Texas Observer.
The dispute came as Blanco and Romero were proudly discussing the hundreds of protesters who filled the gallery with banners and chants and were ultimately kicked out, Romero said. House rules prohibit any show of support or opposition from the gallery. Watch video of the entire protest below:
The Monday protest, attended by more than 1,000 immigrant rights supporters, coincided with sine die, the Texas Legislature’s final day at work (barring a special session to take up a bathroom bill).
The dispute is the latest in several contentious moments around Senate Bill 4, the anti-’sanctuary cities’ law that critics say will encourage racial profiling and tear immigrant families apart.
The law, which goes into effect September 1, will allow police to ask people who’ve been detained — not just arrested — about their immigration status. It also threatens to jail law enforcement officials who limit cooperation with federal immigration agents. The law has already prompted at least three Texas cities to take legal action against the state.
At 3 a.m. Sunday, around 50 protesters met in front of the governor’s mansion near the Capitol in Austin for a musically themed protest of Senate Bill 4. The crowd blared mariachi music through a megaphone for about an hour, holding signs that read “no bedtime for bigots,” “goodnight SB 4” and “you’ve disturbed our peace, so we’re disturbing yours.”
Keep up with the ongoing protests at the Capitol below: