AUSTIN, Texas — A heated argument erupted between legislators at the Texas Capitol on Monday afternoon after one state representative claimed he called U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on protesters.
On the last day of the legislature’s regular session, hundreds of protesters packed into the Capitol rotunda to protest Senate Bill 4, the sanctuary city legislation that was passed and signed by Gov. Greg Abbott earlier this month.
The new law bans sanctuary cities and punishes local governments that don’t comply with immigration laws and detention requests.
Republican Rep. Matt Rinaldi said in a Facebook post that he called ICE on the protesters, some of whom he said were holding signs that read “I am illegal and here to stay.”
ICE said “local enforcement and removal officers received no such call from local lawmakers.”
After Rinaldi told some Democratic representatives that he had called ICE, the Republican representative claimed one legislator “physically assaulted” him and that another threatened him verbally.
Rinaldi said he replied that he would shoot the Democrat in self-defense.
“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. … 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 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 wrote.
“I made it clear that if he attempted to, in his words, ‘get me,’ I would shoot him in self defense.”
Romero said he did not assault Rinaldi, and that he and other representatives were disgusted with Rinaldi’s actions.
“Matt Rinaldi looked into a House gallery full of Americans exercising their First Amendment rights against SB4 — Americans of all ages and ethnicities — and he saw only ‘illegals,'” Romero said in a statement.
“Let me be clear, this was a personal attack on me as a son of Mexican immigrants. I voiced my feelings. Countless members witnessed ‘the scuffle,’ and they will all tell you no assault occurred.”
On Twitter, Nevarez called Rinaldi “a liar and a hateful man.”
“The guy made a very stupid comment. He’s a racist. He’s a bad person and we’re not going to allow people like that to get away with saying comments like that because they think nothing is going to happen to them,” he told KXAN.AlertMe