Protesters fill Texas Capitol to fight SB4, the state's new anti-sanctuary cities law


On Monday, the Texas House was briefly overtaken by hundreds of people protesting the state's new anti-sanctuary cities law, known as SB4, the Associated Press reported.

The new law, which was signed by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on May 7, will require both local police chiefs and sheriffs to comply with federal requests to hold criminal suspects for possible deportation. If they do not comply, they could lose their jobs or end up in jail themselves. Additionally, the law gives officers in the state the right to ask the immigration status of any person they stop, the AP reported.  

To oppose the bill, hundreds of demonstrators showed up in red shirts with the words "fight back" emblazoned on the front.

"Fear motivated me to get involved," Abril Gallardo, a 26-year-old Mexican native who entered the U.S. illegally as a child, told the AP.

The protesters remained quiet in the gallery for nearly an hour before beginning to chant "Here to stay!" and "Hey, hey, ho, ho SB4 has got to go!" The noise prompted House leadership to stop its session, the last one before its recess, according to the AP. The protesters were then escorted out of the gallery by state troopers.

Additionally, the Texas Tribune reported, once the protesters turned vocal, several Democratic lawmakers began to clap in support. That's when an altercation broke out on the floor between lawmakers.

According to Democratic state Rep. César Blanco, who spoke with the Texas Tribune, Republican state Rep. Matt Rinaldi came into the chambers and said, "I'm glad I just called ICE to have all these people deported." Democratic State Rep. Ramon Romero additionally told the Tribune Rinaldi said, "I called ICE — fuck them,'" and that Rinaldi turned to the Democratic lawmakers and yelled, "Fuck you."

For his part, Rinaldi said in a statement released on Twitter that he indeed called ICE on the protesters, but claims Democratic state Rep. Poncho Nevarez "threatened my life on the House floor," adding, "I was pushed, jostled and someone threatened to kill me. It was basically just bullying."

"Matt Rinaldi gave the perfect example of why there's a problem with SB4," Romero told the Texas Tribune. "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."

As the AP additionally noted, the state legislature may want to rethink its attitude toward the estimated 1 million people living in the state illegally as it could have a "profound effect on the Texas economy." 

According to a 2014 report by the Center for Public Policy Priorities, immigrants in Texas not only make up one-fifth of the state's overall population of adults who are of prime working age, they are also more likely to be working than their U.S.-born counterparts. Additionally, the report noted that while immigrants have higher rates of participation in the workforce, they earn lower wages than their similarly educated U.S-born counterparts and do not displace native workers in the state's labor market.

Moreover, the center's report found that in 2011, immigrants contributed $65 billion in economic output to the state of Texas in terms of wages, salary, and business earnings. Small businesses owned by immigrants contributed $4.4 billion in earnings to the state's economy in the same year, accounting for almost a fifth of total small business earnings.