A group of Democratic state representatives on Monday accused a Texas Republican of threatening to “put a bullet in the head” of a fellow lawmaker on the TexasHouse floor, as a raucous protest against a new state immigration law unfolded in a public gallery and legislators confronted each other.
The protest was against the recently approved bill SB4, an anti-“sanctuary cities” measure that compels local police – under the threat of jail and removal from office – to enforce federal immigration law. Opponents of SB4 have filed lawsuits against the bill, which Governor Greg Abbott signed earlier this month in a ceremony held without notice and broadcast only by Facebook Live.
Hundreds of protesters wearing red t-shirts and chanting “lucha” – “fight” – waved banners reading “See you in court!” and began cheering, blowing whistles and chanting from the gallery: “Here to stay!” and “Hey, hey, ho, ho SB4 has got to go!”
They were cleared from the gallery by state troopers but continued their protest inside the ground floor rotunda. In the chamber, representatives argued and jostled.
At an afternoon news conference, the Democrats said Texas Republican Matt Rinaldi, from suburban Dallas, made the shooting threat towards Poncho Nevarez, a Democrat from the border town of Eagle Pass. Several Democrats said Rinaldi also bragged about “calling Ice” on protesters who interrupted a floor session, leading to a near-scuffle between Rinaldi and Democrat Cesar Blanco. The Democrats said Texas Republican Rinaldi’s comments about shooting came during a second altercation, moments later.
In a statement posted on Facebook on Monday afternoon, Rinaldi said Nevarez had “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’.”
Claiming that “several Democrats encouraged the protesters to disobey law enforcement”, Rinaldi continued: “When I told the Democrats I called Ice, Representative Ramon Romero physically assaulted me, and other Democrats were held back by colleagues.”
Texas Republican Rinaldi claimed to have been threatened twice more by Navarez and said he had “made it clear that if he attempted to, in his words, ‘get me’, I would shoot him in self defense”.
“I am currently under [Department of Public Safety] protection,” he continued. “Several of my colleagues heard the threats made and witnessed Ramon [Romero] assaulting me.”
At the protest in the rotunda Leroy Pena of Dallas, a Lipan Apache Indian, held a sign reading: “Governor Abbott, show me your papers. I am a 15th-generation Texan.”
The protest was organized by activists who canvassed over Memorial Day weekend in Austin, informing anxious immigrants about the rights they retain despite the law and urged grassroots resistance against it.
One protester, Abril Gallardo, rode 15 hours in a van to attend, to urge fellow Hispanics to fight back. “Fear motivated me to get involved,” said the 26-year-old Mexican native who entered the US as an undocumented immigrant at age 12.
Opponents call the Texas anti-sanctuary cities law a “show your papers” law, since it empowers police to inquire about peoples’ immigration status during routine interactions such as traffic stops. City governments and immigrant rights’ groups have challenged the legality of the law, hopeful for a victory like one in Arizona, but such actions could take months to have any effect.