(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump was accused of being racist and divisive by many Democrats on Sunday after suggesting that four progressive female Democratic lawmakers, led by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, should return to the "broken and crime infested places from which they came."
Three of the four women Trump was apparently referencing were born in the U.S.; none is white.
The comments, made in a three-tweet string early Sunday, seem aimed at first-term Representatives Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts. "The Squad," as the quartet is known, has been engaged in an intraparty dispute with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Trump said the lawmakers "originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe" and should go back and help fix the countries and "then come back and show us how it is done."
His comments come as U.S. immigration officials prepare to conduct raids in about ten cities around the U.S. to round up individuals who've received deportation orders, and as reports continue to circulate about poor conditions for migrants in U.S. detention facilities on the U.S. border with Mexico.
In response, Pelosi called the tweets "xenophobic comments meant to divide our nation," and Democratic Representative Ben Ray Lujan of New Mexico decried "a racist tweet from a racist president."
Ocasio-Cortez sent four tweets of her own, saying Trump was "angry" because he doesn't "believe in an America" where women like those in the Squad are elected to Congress.
"You are angry because you can't conceive of an America that includes us. You rely on a frightened America for your plunder," she said.
Pressley said on Twitter "THIS is what racism looks like. WE are what democracy looks like. And we're not going anywhere." Omar said Trump was "stoking white nationalism bc you are angry that people like us are serving in Congress and fighting against your hate-filled agenda."
Tlaib was also blunt: "Want a response to a lawless & complete failure of a President?"' she tweeted. "He is the crisis. His dangerous ideology is the crisis."
Democratic presidential hopefuls also weighed in. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said that "unfortunately, there's an American tradition of telling people to go back to where they came from" and that Trump was trying to "gin up his base" by keeping Americans divided.
"You don't expect to hear it from the president of the United States," de Blasio said on CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday.
Lujan, assistant Speaker and a member of the Hispanic Caucus in the House, became emotional on "Fox News Sunday" when shown Trump's tweet. "That is a racist tweet. Telling people to go back where they came from? I think that's wrong," he said.
Representative Brendan Boyle, a Pennsylvania Democrat, noted in a tweet that "I'm young, from an immigrant family, also very critical of Trump. Funny thing though, he never tells me to 'go back where I come from.' Hmm I wonder why?"
Republicans were mostly silent. Joe Walsh, a former GOP representative from Illinois who's now a commentator and often a critic of the president, said that "To say 'go back to where you came from' is gross. It's offensive, ignorant, anti-American, and racist."
Pelosi last week told the New York Times that the vocal freshmen lawmakers were just "four people" among the Democratic House majority after a party split over a $4.6 billion border funding bill.
Among the lawmakers implied in Trump's tweet, only one -- Omar, 37 -- was born outside the U.S. She migrated as a young girl with her Somalian family after spending four years in a refugee camp. Tlaib, 42, the first Palestinian-American woman elected to Congress, was born in Detroit.
African-American Pressley, 45, was born in Cincinnati and raised in Chicago. Ocasio-Cortez, 29, was born in New York to parents of Puerto Rican origin.
Trump's comments echo the bigoted shouts that minorities hear daily to "go back where you came from," said Nihad Awad, national executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
"If Trump shouted the same thing at a Muslim woman wearing hijab in a Walmart, he might be arrested," Awad said in a statement.
(Updates with Boyle, Walsh comments from 14th paragraph.)
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