85th legislative session ends with a “scuffle”

Wesley Story

Tensions clashed between Republican and Democratic lawmakers Monday as chants of “Undocumented. Unafraid.” echoed throughout the Capitol rotunda.

The final day of Texas’ 85th regular legislative session was interrupted by hundreds of protesters in red who filled the Capitol in opposition to Senate Bill 4, one of this session’s most controversial bills. The 140-day session culminated in a fight that broke out on the House floor in response to State Rep. Matt Rinaldi, R-Irving, who said he called immigration authorities on the people protesting the state’s recently-signed  “sanctuary cities” law.

“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,’” Rinaldi said in a statement. “When I told the Democrats I called ICE, Representative Ramon Romero physically assaulted me, and other Democrats were held back by colleagues.”

Rep. Ramon Romero, D-Fort Worth, responded with a statement on Twitter calling Rinaldi’s claims “completely baseless.”

“Let me be clear, this was a personal attack on me as a son of Mexican immigrants,” Romero said. “Countless members witnessed ‘the scuffle,’ and they will all tell you no assault occurred.”

No arrests were made at the Capitol.  

The final version of SB 4, which Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law on May 7, bans sanctuary cities in Texas and included an amendment that allows police officers to question a person’s immigration status during a detainment. Critics say the law will result in racial profiling by officers.

After the Department of Public Safety cleared SB 4 protesters from the House gallery, the protesters gathered on the steps of the Capitol to continue their day of resistance.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler, U.S. Congressman Joaquin Castro and Austin City Council Member Gregorio Casar joined SB 4 protesters outside of the Capitol to express their disapproval of the law.

“Today has been a crazy day for the Texas legislature and this has been a crazy session,” Castro said. “We’re here today in a spirit of love and compassion for the people of our state and the targets of SB 4.”

Castro said his fears about the bill leading to racial profiling were realized through Rinaldi’s actions.

“That’s the kind of thing that I think we saw earlier today when a legislator from North Texas saw many brown people up in the stands in the gallery and decided to call ICE just because he saw a bunch of people that are a shade darker,” Castro said. “That’s wrong. We have to stand up to it and we have to call it out.”

Monica Roberts, a transgender rights advocate, spoke at the protest and said she was disgusted with the bills introduced during the 85th legislative session.  

“The Texas legislature has spent the last 140 days of legislative time passing the most racist, xenophobic agenda that I have seen in my lifetime,” Roberts said.

Several of the protesters likened SB 4 to Arizona’s SB 1070, the so-called “show me your papers” law. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down key provisions in the law in 2012 after the U.S. Justice Department sued Arizona.