Lawmakers spent most of Tuesday hashing out whether to condemn President Donald Trump’s racist comment that four congresswomen of color should “go back” to their ancestral countries, but a federal agency has already made the decision for them.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has written specific rules that protect people, mostly immigrants, against employment discrimination on the basis of their national origin. The agency is responsible for enforcing laws that prohibit discrimination and harassment based on race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age and disability.
“Ethnic slurs and other verbal or physical conduct because of nationality are illegal if they are severe or pervasive and create an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment, interfere with work performance, or negatively affect job opportunities,” the commission said on its website to describe harassment based on national origin.
“Examples of potentially unlawful conduct include insults, taunting, or ethnic epithets, such as making fun of a person’s foreign accent or comments like, ‘Go back to where you came from,’ whether made by supervisors or co-workers,” it continued.
Trump and his followers insist he was not being racist when he tweeted Sunday that Democratic Reps. Ayanna Pressley (Mass.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (Mich.) should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came” after the lawmakers, all four American citizens, criticized him.
Three of the four women were born in the U.S., and one came from Somalia as a child. They held a press conference Monday calling Trump’s comments “blatantly racist” and “the agenda of white nationalists.”
The president’s tweets were racist, and many people of color have memories of being told the same thing that the EEOC has deemed harassment.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) tweeted a screenshot of the EEOC’s rule on Tuesday, saying, “The President’s bigoted words are so contrary to who we are as a country that we literally have laws against them.”
On Monday, the EEOC posted its own tweet detailing how to file a charge of discrimination that asks the agency to take action. The tweet did not mention the incident between the Democrats and Trump, though it was posted one day after the president’s remarks.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article referred to Tim Kaine as a representative. He is a senator.