EL PASO, Texas - State Rep. Cesar Blanco, (D) District 76, told ABC-7 his office called the Department of Public Safety Monday after it received a threat from a hate group.
"I think several of us are under protection - and we haven't reported this to anyone - but we received a phone call today from a racist organization, a hate group, and it said 'White Power,'" Blanco said.
The threat came in the wake of a heated argument that escalated into a scuffle on the Texas House Floor Monday. It started when activist groups protesting the new anti-sanctuary cities law in Texas were escorted out of the House galley by state troopers.
"Those who are watching in the gallery must remain quiet, and you know, I understand that," Blanco said, "The important thing to take away from this is that these protesters were non-violent. They were not silent, but they were non-violent and they were just exercising their first amendment right."
Blanco said he and several Hispanic House members were then approached by fellow state Rep. Matt Rinaldi, (R) District 115, who said, "I am so glad. I just called ICE. We are going to have all these people deported."
"It's unfortunate that Matt Rinaldi would make the assumption that because the protester were brown and because they looked like me, as an Hispanic, that they are undocumented. That's the problem with SB 4. That is the root problem with SB 4 and that is why we believe that SB4 will lead to racial profiling," Blanco said.
Blanco then told Rinaldi that Rinaldi's name sounded like an Italian name. "It wasn't too long ago when Italian and Irish immigrants were treated unfairly in this country and he proceeded to tell me that the difference between his family and these immigrant families is that his family loves America," Blanco said.
The El Paso state representative said he was offended. "My grandfather came to this country from Mexico. Several of his sons served in the military and I myself served in the military," Blanco said, "No one should question my loyalty. No one should question the loyalty of immigrants who come to this country to make a better life for themselves."
Rinaldi said other House members who were around him heard the comments and the "situation became heated." At no point did Blanco and Rinaldi get into a physical altercation, Blanco said. "In fact, he and I were mostly discussing. I was in the middle of separating him and another state representative actually," Blanco added.
"Since then, we've received apologies from other Republican members of the House, and I appreciate their concerns and their apologies, but the reality is Matt Rinaldi deserves to, should apologize to the body and to the immigrants in this country," Blanco said.
Later, a group of Democratic lawmakers held a press conference to accuse Rinaldi of threatening to "put a bullet in the head" of someone on the House floor. They said the comment was made in the direction of Democratic Rep. Poncho Nevarez, from the border town of Eagle Pass.
"Yeah. I mean, the guy made a comment, a very stupid comment. He's a racist. He's a bad person. We're not going to allow people like that to get away with saying comments like that, because they think nothing's gonna happen to them," Nevarez said.
"I just remember they were saying stuff to me, I was saying stuff to them. Both were designed to incite each other. All sides were emotional," Rinaldi said.
But in a subsequent Facebook statement, Rinaldi admitted saying he'd called federal authorities and threatened to shoot Nevarez - but said his life was in danger, not the other way around.
"Nevarez threatened my life on the House floor after I called ICE on several illegal immigrants," Rinaldi wrote, who alleges Democrats were encouraging protesters to ignore police instructions.
Rinaldi said Nevarez later "told me that he would 'get me on the way to my car.'" Rinaldi said he responded by making it clear "I would shoot him in self-defense,"
Blanco told ABC-7 did not witness Rinaldi's alleged threat. "I was not there and I did not witness that comment, but other representatives did witness that comment," Blanco said.
Blanco said, "Violence is never the answer and we need to make sure there is decorum in the House. The Texas House is a place for peaceful deliberation - and discussions happen on issues that affect our state - and there is no room for that. And it is my hope that the leadership in the house calls our Rep. Rinaldi for his racist comments."
The District 75 Democrat further stated, "I think we're getting to the root of what SB 4 means and what the intent is for SB 4. I think there is a lot of hate in this state right now by individuals who dislike immigrants in our country and dislike Hispanics. I think this has trickled down from the Trump campaign who has campaigned on hatred towards our community."
In an editorial published in the San Antonio Express News, Texas Governor Greg Abbott stated "The objective of SB 4 is to identify dangerous criminals, not detain hardworking families or innocent children."
"SB 4 specifically prohibits racial profiling and discrimination. You will not be asked about your immigration status while walking down the street," Gov. Abbott said, "Under SB 4, law enforcement officers who profile or discriminate will be subject to serious consequences. Both Texas and federal law strictly forbid racial profiling."
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS CONTRIBUTED TO THIS ARTICLE