Go back where you came from.
It’s an insulting remark sometimes flung at new arrivals to the United States, at foreign-born U.S. citizens — or at those who are native-born but belong to an ethnic minority. It’s usually considered an ugly racist taunt.
On Sunday, President Trump denounced “ ‘progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe.”
“Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came,” he added in a series of tweets.
He did not name the lawmakers, but in recent days he has disparaged several first-year House Democrats — Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota — who are widely known as “the squad.”
All four are women of color; all but one are U.S.-born. Like Trump, Ocasio-Cortez is a New York City native; Pressley, who is black, was born in Cincinnati and was raised in Chicago; Tlaib was born in Detroit to Palestinian parents. Omar, a refugee from Somalia, was naturalized in 2000.
Trump’s tweets highlighted a political rift between “the squad” and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco -- even as he suggested he was trying to help the powerful 79-year-old speaker, with whom he has often sparred.
“I’m sure that Nancy Pelosi would be very glad to quickly work out free travel arrangements” for the Democrats, he tweeted, presumably sarcastically, before heading out for his second consecutive day on the golf course.
Later, Trump fired off another online volley, tweeting in the evening: “So sad to see the Democrats in question sticking up for people who speak so badly of our Country…Whenever confronted, they call their adversaries, including Nancy Pelosi, ‘RACIST.’ ”
Pelosi quickly responded to the initial tweets, saying she rejected Trump’s “xenophobic comments meant to divide our nation. Rather than attacking members of Congress, he should work with us for humane immigration policy that reflects American values.”
Several of the presumed targets also fired back on Twitter, along with many others who told personal stories of being jeered at with schoolyard-style comments similar to that made by the president.
“Want a response to a lawless and complete failure of a president? He is the crisis. His dangerous ideology is the crisis. He needs to be impeached,” Tlaib tweeted.
Omar said that as members of Congress, “the only country we swear an oath to is the United States” and called Trump “the worst, most corrupt and inept president we have ever seen.”
Trump’s tweets were not thought to target Indian-born Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington state, one of five naturalized U.S. citizens among Democratic women in the House, but she said the president “can only HOPE to be as patriotic as we are.”
The flap erupted as Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials launched operations in several cities to find and deport migrants who have been ordered removed in immigration courts.
Although the administration had warned of massive round-ups, the scope of the raids wasn’t immediately clear. Trump last month claimed that “millions” would be deported, but ICE officials said they would target about 2,000 people.
A senior White House aide, Kellyanne Conway, appeared to downplay the arrests on Sunday.
“ICE does this every single day,” she said on “Fox News Sunday.” “It’s called enforcement actions.”
Republicans were largely silent about Trump’s tweets. One exception was former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, a presidential aspirant, who said the comment was “not just embarrassing, it’s disgusting.”
Several administration officials declined to discuss the president’s tweets.
Ken Cuccinelli, the acting U.S. citizenship and immigration services director, said on ABC’s “This Week” that he did not know to whom Trump was referring.
Mark Morgan, the acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, also declined to explain Trump’s comments.
“You’re gonna have to ask the president what he means by those specific tweets,” he said.
Democrats lined up to express outrage. Writing on Twitter, Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) told the president, “They’re Americans. You’re a bigot.”
Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.), the highest ranking Latino in Congress, also denounced what he called a “racist tweet.” He added, “Telling people to go back where they came from? These are American citizens, elected by voters” to serve in Congress.
Several Democrats described Trump’s taunts, days after he suffered an embarrassing defeat in his attempts to add a citizenship question to the U.S. census, as an effort to agitate his political base as the 2020 campaign begins to heat up.
“He said he would make America great again — what he’s trying to do is make America hate again,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, a 2020 Democratic hopeful, said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Trump and his Republican allies have sought to capitalize on Democratic infighting over racial matters that include school busing and migrant detention.
Ocasio-Cortez and the three other freshmen congresswomen were publicly critical of a House-passed emergency funding bill, saying it did not do enough to protect detainees, particularly children.
The Democratic leadership, including Pelosi, has urged them to refrain from airing policy disagreements within the caucus in public.
Some Democrats in turn suggested that Pelosi may be out of touch with voters who look up to and relate to figures like Ocasio-Cortez, who at 29 became the youngest woman ever elected to Congress.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), another presidential candidate, was asked on NBC’s “Meet the Press” whether he thought Pelosi was “being too tough” on the group.
“A little bit,” said Sanders. “You cannot ignore the young people of this country who are passionate about economic and racial and social and environmental justice. You’ve got to bring them in, not alienate them.”