On Memorial Day, activists filed into the Texas Capitol to protest State Bill 4 (SB 4), which intends to quell sanctuary cities. A few weeks ago, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott unexpectedly signed SB 4 into law during a Facebook Live session. With the legislation set to go into effect on September 1, those who know how unsafe and unwelcoming Texas will become for the undocumented community are gearing up for a summer of resistance. And while Monday’s protest is a taste of what else is to come, it’s what happened on the Capitol floor and the fallout that have taken center stage.
As the Capitol Rotunda became filled with protesters holding signs on the last day of the legislative session, Rinaldi called Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). On Facebook and on Twitter, he posted a message with his version of the story. “Today, Representative Poncho Nevárez 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,’” he wrote. “Several Democrats encouraged the protesters to disobey law enforcement. When I told the Democrats I called ICE, Representative Ramón 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.’”
Rinaldi continued by saying that he made it clear to Nevárez that he’d shoot him in self defense. He alleges that plenty of his colleagues witnessed Romero assaulting him.
On Twitter, Romero denies assaulting Rinaldi. He also spoke out about the incident at a House press conference and explained that as he and other representatives looked above at the crowd, Rinaldi approached them and told them he called ICE, according to the Dallas Observer. Incredulous, they asked if he was kidding, and Rinaldi reportedly answered “Fuck them” about the protesters.
Nevárez also gave his version of the story. “For that guy to say what he did and think that there’s no reckoning or no repercussions or nothing coming, he’s wrong. Today, he just picked the wrong people to say that to. He’s lucky that there were more people around because, while pushing and shoving and anything beyond that isn’t acceptable and shouldn’t happen out there and I’m sorry it happened, the fact is, he’s asking for it,” Nevárez said. “I [am] here to tell this to him or anybody else who thinks that it’s funny to say that, not in my face.”
During a news conference, Rep. Justin Rodriguez alleged that Rinaldi was the one who made threats. “There was a threat made from Representative Rinaldi to put a bullet in one of my colleagues’ heads,” Rodriguez said, according to the Washington Post. “That kind of threatening language, he needs to be called out and held accountable for.”
While two sides of the story don’t match up, it’s clear that Rinaldi employed hateful rhetoric. In his post, he said protesters held signs that said “illegal immigrants,” something activists have taken offense with as they wouldn’t use this dehumanizing phrase to describe the undocumented community. Others also others accused Rinaldi of profiling the group of protesters – something that many believe SB 4 will encourage.
SB 4 allows police officers to ask children about their immigration status and gives law enforcement permission to target the most vulnerable undocumented immigrants at homeless shelters and domestic violence centers. SB 4, which has earned comparisons to Arizona’s “show me your papers law (SB 1070), will also force all officials to carry out anti-immigrant policies. Failure to comply with the provisions laid out in the bill could result in $25,500 fee.
Following the events at the Capitol on Monday, several Latino representatives are dealing with a barrage of racist and offensive messages. Nevárez posted some on his Twitter account.
Rep. Cesar Blanco, who Rinaldi didn’t name in his post, also received a disconcerting message. A constituent called his office and used racial slurs. The unnamed called, who said he sided with Rinaldi, ended his call by saying “white power.” In a separate tweet, Blanco said his office is “now receiving these calls. @MattRinaldiTX comments incite hate and racism.”
Check out how the rest of the protest went down: