Yesterday, more than 1,000 people from across the country of all races and ethnicities, took over the Texas Capitol to protest SB4, a racist and anti-immigrant law that targets people of color by allowing local law enforcement agents to act as federal immigration officials.
Activists and allies in a rally organized by United We Dream, the Workers Defense Project, and other organizations filled the House Gallery as state representatives worked through their last day of the Texas legislative session, one that has targeted and criminalized immigrants in Texas unlike ever before. And it was on the House floor that Rep. Matt Rinaldi (R-Irving) did one of the more cowardly things ever done on the floor and immediately proved to the nation why SB4 is discriminatory and racist.
Rep. Rinaldi looked up into the gallery, saw hundreds of people protesting, many of them Latino, and decided to call Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), seemingly for them to come and start a mass roundup of people. This led to a scuffle on the House floor when several Latino representatives who were rightly offended by their colleague’s actions confronted Rep. Rinaldi.
It was more of the dog-whistle politics that Republicans in Texas and across the country have become known for and that threaten our communities. During the legislative session, the bill’s sponsors and Gov. Greg Abbott have continually called SB4 a “law enforcement” bill, this despite the numerous law enforcement agencies that have stated this bill will undermine public safety. Yesterday, Rep. Rinaldi showed the bill’s true intentions and highlighted what opponents of the bill most fear: SB4 is an attack against all Latinos and people of color in Texas.
To Latinos, regardless of their immigration status, threats about calling Border Patrol, or ICE, or “la Migra,” have been all too common in our communities, and it’s only grown worse since President Trump took office. People of color are now threatened with deportation — or worse than threatened — because a landlord wants to gentrify their apartment, or because an employer doesn’t want to pay workers’ comp. And, to be clear, that threat is often made against US citizens who are Latino.
But when elected officials participate in the worst of the xenophobic and racist actions we endure, it’s crystal clear what the intent of SB4 is. It’s not law enforcement. It’s racial profiling meant to intimidate 40% of our state’s population. Of course, this law will also drive immigrants further into the shadows. If your state representative threatens to deport you and separate you from your family, imagine what a random, unelected anti-immigrant crusader might do?
As a Latino and a citizen, this concerns me too. I’ve had difficult conversations with my mother, who’s also a citizen, but who is unable to speak English, about what to do in case she ever has an encounter with law enforcement. After all, a US citizen was detained by ICE in March, and told “you’re no one, until your situation is cleared up”. But the uncertainty that we feel is nothing like the fear felt by the nearly 2 million undocumented immigrants in Texas, who at any moment might be swept in President Trump’s and Gov. Abbott’s deportation machine, and who have to make the difficult choice of leaving or staying to fight.
Make no mistake. President Trump has enabled anti-immigrant voices like Abbott’s to gain a platform and push for hateful bills like SB4.
Rep. Rinaldi’s despicable actions were not enough to quiet the beautiful and boisterous crowd at the Capitol. And with the support from allies from across the country, the fight to ensure SB4 never sees the light of day on our streets remains strong.
We must use Rep. Rinaldi’s hate as an organizing moment, and get racists like him out of office. In 2016, Rep. Rinaldi won his race by 2 points and, like every other member of the House, he’s up for reelection in 2018. Racism has no place in Texas or in our country, and the power displayed by yesterday’s action must be the catalyst for us to build a state that is welcoming to all.