A pushing match and threats between representatives broke out on the House floor as protesters gathered at the Capitol on Monday to speak out against Senate Bill 4.
SB4 would compel local police to enforce federal immigration law.
Crowds of protesters filled all four levels of the rotunda chanting "Here to stay" and waving signs, including one that said, "See you in court!"
The House of Representatives stopped their session as DPS troopers worked to clear the gallery of protesters and blocked the doors to the gallery.
KVUE's Ashley Goudeau witnessed a scuffle on the Texas House floor as representatives pushed each other. The parliamentarian stepped in and diffused the fight.
Rep. Cesar Blanco (D-El Paso) told Goudeau the disagreement began when Rep. Matt Rinaldi (R-Irving) told a group of Hispanic representatives that he had called Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, on the protesters. Several other representatives said they also saw Rinaldi claim he called ICE.
Rinaldi told reporters that he said something to "incite" Blanco but could not remember exactly what he said.
Rep. Justin Rodriguez (D-San Antonio) said he heard Rinaldi say that he would "put a bullet" in one of his colleagues' heads.
Monday afternoon, Rinaldi released the following statement:
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 which said "I am illegal and here to stay." Several Democrats encouraged the protestors to disobey law enforcement. 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 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." I made it clear that if he attempted to, in his words, "get me," I would shoot him in self defense. I am currently under DPS protection. Several of my colleagues heard the threats made and witnessed Ramon assaulting me.
Rep. Ramon Romero Jr. (D-Fort Worth) responded with the following statement:
The true intentions of SB4 came to light today on the floor of the Texas House of Representatives. 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 only saw "illegals."
As Reps. Cesar Blanco, Phil Cortez, and myself celebrated the enthusiasm for civic engagement being shown, Rep. Rinaldi felt the need to break up our appreciation by telling us he had called ICE to deport the protesters in the gallery. Our reactions were honest. Our reactions were of disgust. His use of profanity to emphasize his point that all he saw was a bunch of illegals that deserve to be deported had the intention of anger.
Let me be clear, this was a personal attack on me as a son of Mexican immigrants. I voiced my feelings, as did Reps. Blanco and Cortez, and Rep. Rinaldi replied by saying the people in the gallery did not love this country. Members of his own party came to pull him away, making his accusation of being assaulted completely baseless. Countless members witnessed "the scuffle," and they will all tell you no assault occurred.Minutes later, Rep. Rinaldi decided he had not had enough, and threatened another member of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus by telling Rep. Poncho Nevarez he would "put a bullet" in his head. That direct threat merits a full investigation by the appropriate authorities.
Rep. Blanco released the following statement:
Earlier Today on the Texas House Floor, Representative Rinaldi said, in regards to SB 4 protestors, " I called I.C.E....F**k them." If that is not racism, I don't know what is. I am deeply disappointed in his comments and attitude towards Hispanics and immigrants. His phone call to ICE to detain Hispanic protesters and immigrants only highlights the institutional racism this body embraced this session by passing SB 4, the "Show Me Your Papers Bill." Other Republican colleagues had the class and respect to apologize for Representative Rinaldi's behavior. But the only one that can apologize for Rep. Rinaldi's behavior is Rep. Rinaldi. Representative Rinaldi owes an apology to the Texas House and more importantly to the very people his hateful and disparaging comments were aimed at.
On Tuesday, ICE told ABC News, "ICE is not aware of receiving any calls related to this matter since media first reported it on May 29."
Calls can be made to the ICE tip line, but ICE does not always pursue every single tip. Instead, they use the information for overall intelligence for immigration enforcement, according to ABC.
"Lastly, even if ICE did receive a call, the protest would have likely been off-limits -- covered by the “sensitive location” policy, preventing ICE from making arrests/questioning individuals at the protest," ABC said.
"There is no excuse for members making insensitive and disparaging remarks on the floor of the Texas House," said House Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio).
Straus adjourned the House around 1 p.m. for their final day of the 85th Texas legislative session, however the possibility of a special session looms. Governor Greg Abbott will make an announcement on a special session later this week.