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Texas Representative: “I Called ICE” on Protesters

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On the last day of the regular session of the Texas Legislature, hundreds protested at the Capitol in Austin — and Republican state Rep. Matt Rinaldi called ICE on them, after he nearly came to blows with Democratic colleagues.

Monday, the ceremonial last day of the legislative session descended into chaos as proceedings in the House were disrupted by protests, where State Rep.Matt Rinaldi, R-Irving, called immigration authorities on the protesters.

Rinaldi said he called U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement as hundreds of people dressed in red T-shirts waved banners, chanting in opposition to the state’s new sanctuary cities law, formally known as Senate Bill 4. His action enraged Hispanic legislators, leading to a tussle in which each side accused the other of threats and violence.

Rinaldi said state Rep. Poncho Nevárez, D-Eagle Pass, “threatened my life on the House floor.” Rinaldi says now, he’s currently under the protection of the Department of Public Safety as a result saying:

“I was pushed, jostled and someone threatened to kill me. It was basically just bullying.”

Nevárez said in an interview with the Texas Tribune he put his hands on Rinaldi and told him to take his argument outside the House chamber adding, “But was I going to shoot the guy? No.”

After the incident, Nevárez tweeted in response to Rinaldi’s claims:

DPS was not available to comment Monday because of the Memorial Day holiday.

Hispanic Democratic lawmakers involved in the altercation said it wasn’t physical but said Rinaldi got into people’s faces and cursed at them. Texas Tribune obtained video shot from the House floor shows both Republicans and Democrats pushing each other.

State Rep. César Blanco, D-El Paso, whose account was echoed by state Reps. Armando Walle, D-Houston, and Ramon Romero, D-Fort Worth said:

“He came up to us and said, ‘I’m glad I just called ICE to have all these people deported.”

Romero added:

“He said, ‘I called ICE — fuck them. Fuck you,’ to the point where spit was hitting their faces.”

SB4 was signed into law by Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott. The law requires local cities and counties to cooperate with federal immigration authorities who request law enforcement agencies continue to detain people suspected of being in the country illegally. SB4 also bans local entities from adopting policies that ban their police officers from asking about the immigration status of people they detain.

The main concerns raised by opponents is SB4 could lead to racial profiling of Texans during interactions with police. Speaker Joe Straus said:

“There’s no excuse for members making insensitive and disparaging remarks on the floor of the Texas House.”

DPS quickly rushed in to break up the protest, grabbing banners from the protesters, even pulling some of the people holding them out of the room. Eventually, protestors were removed from the gallery.

Blanco said that at one point during the altercation, he pointed out that “Rinaldi” is an Italian name and that the Irish and Italians were once treated poorly in this country saying:

“The difference between me and them is that I love this country. It’s just disrespectful.”

Rinaldi said he was angry adding:

“Democrats in the House were bragging about how great it was and they were inciting them to break the House rules and break Texas law. I took issue with that. We jawed back and forth and one of them physically assaulted me and another threatened my life, actually.”

House Democrats involved in the altercation say Rinaldi caused the altercations on the floor. State Rep. Ramon Romero, D-Fort Worth saying:

“Matt Rinaldi gave the perfect example of why there’s a problem with SB 4. Matt Rinaldi looked into the gallery and saw Hispanic people and automatically assumed they were undocumented. He racially profiled every single person that was in the gallery today. He created the scenario that so many of us fear.”

State Rep. Justin Rodriguez, D-San Antonio, said Rinaldi had also threatened to “put a bullet in one of my colleagues’ heads.”

Rinaldi said in his statement that he was speaking in self defense and defended his decision to call ICE saying:

“We didn’t know what to do. A lot of people had signs that said, ‘We are illegal and here to stay.’ They were disrupting. They were breaking the law.”

 

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