The state Capitol turned red on Monday as hundreds of people from across the state and country arrived on the last day of the 85th legislative session in crimson shirts to protest Senate Bill 4, a new law that bans so-called sanctuary cities.
Throngs of people lined the balconies inside the Capitol Rotunda chanting and waving signs that said, “No human is illegal.”
The fervor in the main hall turned to fighting on the House floor, as lawmakers went head-to-head amid the protests.
Rep. Matt Rinaldi, R-Irving, reported the protesters to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, leading to a confrontation with House Democrats.
While fighting ensued, protesters marched outside for a rally in front of the Capitol. Organizers estimated that nearly 1,000 people, including 150 from other cities and states, had amassed on the south steps by noon, in protest of the law, which will penalize law enforcement officials who do not comply with federal immigration policies.
Maria Bilbao, a 51-year-old native of Argentina who lives in Miami, drove 2,000 miles for the rally. Though she has lived in the U.S. 16 years, she only recently received documentation to stay in the country legally.
“I know what it is to live in fear,” she said. “I know how these people feel.”
Under the new law, police would have the right to ask people they stop about their immigration status. Many have called the measure unconstitutional and say it will lead to racial profiling.
“We don’t accept that people should be targeted because of their race or ethnicity or the shade of their skin,” U.S. Rep. Joaquín Castro, D-San Antonio, said at the protest. “We are here today, despite the darkness of the day in the Legislature, we are here today in a spirit of love and compassion.”
Music rang out over the Capitol lawn as people danced and ate pizza.
“You are not alone,” Mayor Steve Adler told the crowd. “We are all in this together.”
After Gov. Greg Abbott signed SB 4 into law on Facebook Live earlier this month, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sued several Austin city and county officials, including Adler, asking for a judge’s opinion on the legality of SB 4 after many called it unconstitutional and refused to enforce it.
The Austin City Council has since given its legal team permission to countersue the state. Several other cities and counties have filed similar suits.
“I don’t think this battle will be won in the courts alone,” Council Member Greg Casar told protesters Monday. “I think we have to start getting warmed up to a much larger and longer fight.”
“There has been a lot of attention given to the horrible laws that try to take away or deny our common humanity like SB 4,” he said. “But the real story, the real story is all of you … the activists and the organizers, los santos y la gente.”
Dozens of groups came together to organize the Memorial Day event, including the Workers Defense Project, United We Dream and Voto Latino.