Donald Trump has told “progressive Democrat congresswomen” to “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came”, as the president stoked racial tensions ahead of planned raids on immigrant families.
The US president tweeted on Sunday that these congresswomen “originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe”, and accused them of “loudly and viciously” telling the US how to run its government.
“These places need your help badly, you can’t leave fast enough,” he added. “I’m sure that Nancy Pelosi [the Democratic leader of the House of Representatives] would be very happy to quickly work out free travel arrangements!”
Mr Trump did not name the members of Congress he was talking about. But his comments appeared to be aimed in part at fuelling splits in the Democratic party between Ms Pelosi and four women known as “The Squad”.
The four — Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley, all of whom are US citizens — have clashed with the Democratic leadership in recent months over various issues. Ms Ocasio-Cortez appeared to escalate the row earlier this week when she accused Ms Pelosi of “singling out . . . young women of colour”.
Mr Trump on Sunday united the Democrats at least temporarily in outrage at his comments.
Ms Pelosi tweeted: “When @realDonaldTrump tells four American Congresswomen to go back to their countries, he reaffirms his plan to ‘Make America Great Again’ has always been about making America white again.
“Our diversity is our strength and our unity is our power.”
Ben Ray Lujan, a member of Congress from New Mexico, called the president’s remarks “a racist tweet from a racist president”. Bill de Blasio, the Democratic mayor of New York who is also running for president, called them “another effort to divide people along lines of religion, ethnicity, origin, and create a country where there can’t be unity”.
But Mr Trump’s remarks also came ahead of what he has said are plans to carry out raids against undocumented migrants to deport or arrest them. The president said on Friday there would be a “major operation”, which would “take criminals out, put them in prison, or put them in prison in the countries they came from”.
The president made a similar threat last month, though eventually postponed the raids.
On Saturday, Mr de Blasio said he had heard of what he called “attempted but reportedly unsuccessful ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] enforcement actions” in parts of New York.
Speaking on Sunday, Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director of US citizenship and immigration, defended mass deportations, though refused to give out more details about the raids.
He told ABC News: “If we don’t have interior enforcement, we don’t have deterrents. Then people think they can get by that first line just as you described earlier and they’re done, it’s over.
“Well it isn’t over, and over a million people in this country have — who are here illegally have gone through extensive due process, have removal orders and have not left.”
He refused to say if families might be separated as a result of the raids.
Mr Cuccinelli also blamed Congress for the conditions at migrant detention centres, which Mike Pence, the vice-president, this weekend called “unacceptable”, following a visit to two detention centres in Texas.
The acting head of citizenship and immigration said the overcrowding in detention facilities was as a result of Congress’ failure to grant extra resources to law enforcement.
He said: “When Congress provides the professionals at the border what they need, success happens — success being measured as avoiding overcrowding.”