US & Canada

Texas legislators scuffle after Republican calls immigration agents

Protest outside Austin capital Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Protesters outside the Austin capital building earlier this year

US legislators scuffled in the Texas capital during chaotic scenes after a protest against an immigration crackdown halted proceedings.

Republican Matt Rinaldi accused a Hispanic Democrat of "threatening his life" and said another Democrat had assaulted him.

It happened after he told a group of Democrats he had called Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents.

The protest targeted a bill to make local police enforce immigration laws.

The bill is aimed at so-called "sanctuary cities", where many undocumented migrants live and officials including police are not allowed to ask about an individual's immigration status in the course of their duties.

President Trump has pledged to end the practice.

Protesters opposing the so-called SB4 bill began cheering and chanting from the public gallery of the capital building in Austin, bringing proceedings to a halt on the final day of the legislative session before they were removed by state troopers.

Mr Rinaldi then called ICE before reportedly walking over to a group of Hispanic legislators and telling them what he had done.

"This is BS. That's why I called ICE," ABC news agency quoted him as saying.

He later told the Texas Tribune that the protesters, some of whom he said had T-shirts saying "We are illegal and here to stay" were "disrupting and breaking the law".

Mr Rinaldi and several Democrats have traded lurid accusations about what happened next.

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Media captionSanctuary cities under threat by Donald Trump

The Republican released a statement in which he accused Representative Poncho Nevarez of saying he would "get me on the way to my car" and said Ramon Romero had assaulted him while other Democrats had had to be held back by colleagues.

Mr Rinaldi said he had told Mr Nevarez that he would "shoot him in self-defence" and said he was currently under police protection.

Democrats meanwhile said Mr Rinaldi had shouted expletives at them and said his call to ICE showed how the new law could be abused.

"Matt Rinaldi looked into the gallery and saw Hispanic people and automatically assumed they were undocumented. He racial profiled every single person that was in the gallery today. He created the scenario that so many of us fear," the Texas Tribune quoted Mr Romero as saying.

Mr Nevarez branded Mr Rinaldi a "liar and a hateful man".

Mr Trump has called for a federal funding cut for those municipalities that refuse to hand over their undocumented residents and said he will focus on deporting criminals first.

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