World

Congresswomen call Trump's barbs a 'disruptive distraction' after renewed attacks

U.S. President Donald Trump renewed his attacks against four liberal congresswomen of colour on Monday. In response, the quartet told their supporters to "not take the bait."

Country 'belongs to everyone,' Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez says alongside colleagues

From left, Democratic Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, llhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib respond to remarks by U.S. President Donald Trump after his call for the four congresswomen to go back to their 'broken' countries. (J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)

The message from the four Democratic congresswomen of colour targeted by U.S. President Donald Trump's tweets: "Do not take the bait."

Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley said Tuesday that their "squad" is big, representing many Americans. She said Trump's "xenophobic, bigoted" tweets are a "disruptive distraction from the issues."

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York said that "no matter what the president says," the country "belongs to everyone."

"I'm not surprised at what he's doing, but I also know that we're focused on making it better because we don't leave the things that we love. And when we love this country, what that means is that we propose the solutions to fix it."

Watch the response from four Democratic congresswomen to Trump:

The four congresswomen of colour understood to be the target of the U.S. president's recent barbs responded by telling their supporters to 'not take the bait.' 2:16

The quartet spoke after Trump tweeted over the weekend that they should go back to the "broken and crime infested" countries they came from "then come back and show us how ... it is done." Three of the four were born in the United States; one, Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, is a refugee from Somalia.

Omar said the "garbage" from Trump is his plan to "pit us against" each other. She and Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan called for impeachment.

"Sadly, this is not the first nor will it be the last time we hear disgusting bigoted language from the president," Tlaib said. "We know this is who he is. and we know that he and his administration are constantly engaged in actions that harm residents and American people in our country."

Watch as Trump renews his attacks on four Democratic congresswomen:

U.S. President Donald Trump renewed his attacks against four liberal congresswomen of colour after a series of weekend tweets targeting them. 1:54

Speaking at the White House Monday afternoon, Trump said he wasn't concerned if people thought his tweets toward them were racist and accused the lawmakers of hating the United States.

"If you're not happy in the U.S., if you're complaining all the time, you can leave, you can leave right now," Trump said Monday at the White House.

Trump tweeted earlier in the day that the four "radical left congresswomen" ought to apologize to him for past remarks about Israel and about him.

His attack drew searing condemnation from Democrats who labelled the remarks racist and breathtakingly divisive. Trump, however, said that "a lot of people love" what he said.

'Fear and hatred'

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Trump wants to "make America white again" and announced Monday that the House would be holding a vote on a resolution condemning Trump's comments.

The measure said Trump's tweets Sunday "have legitimized and increased fear and hatred of new Americans and people of colour."

The four-page resolution quotes from a 1989 speech by former president Ronald Reagan that said the U.S. draws its strength "from every country and every corner of the world." Reagan, a Republican, said that if the U.S. ever closed its doors to immigrants, "our leadership in the world would soon be lost."

The Democrats' measure said the House is "committed to keeping America open to those lawfully seeking refuge and asylum."

House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy said Democrats are playing politics.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, asked his opinion of the tweets on Monday, declined to call out Trump directly but said Canadians already know his position.

"I think Canadians and indeed people around the world know exactly what I think about those particular comments," he said to reporters.

"That is not how we do things in Canada. A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian."

Most Republicans were silent about Trump's tweets, but some, including Maine Sen. Susan Collins and Pennsylvania Sen. Patrick Toomey, spoke out on Monday. 

Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina — the only black Republican in the Senate — said that Trump had "interjected with unacceptable personal attacks and racially offensive language" in his tweets.

Scott also called for unity, saying "aiming for the lowest common denominator will only divide our nation further.

He also mentioned the "racial controversy" surrounding some of the Democratic presidential field concerning busing, saying "it is clear the Democratic Party has serious issues along these lines."

New asylum rule

Trump also moved to end asylum protections for most Central American migrants, escalating the clash between Republican and Democratic lawmakers over immigration policy.

According to a new rule published in the Federal Register, asylum seekers who pass through another country first will be ineligible for asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The new rule, expected to go into effect Tuesday, applies to anyone arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border, including children who have crossed the border alone. Some asylum seekers arriving at the border are from Africa but most are from Central America.

There are some exceptions:

  • If someone has been trafficked.
  • If the country the migrant passed through did not sign one of the major international treaties that govern how refugees are managed (though most Western countries have signed them).
  • If an asylum seeker sought protection in a country but was denied, then a migrant could still apply for U.S. asylum. 

But the move by Trump's administration was meant to essentially end asylum protections as they now are on the southern border, reversing decades of U.S. policy on how refugees are treated. It comes as the government continues to take a hard line on migrants while the treatment of those who made it to the country is heavily criticized as inhumane. 

Attorney General William Barr said the U.S. is "a generous country but is being completely overwhelmed" by the burdens associated with apprehending and processing hundreds of thousands of migrants at the southern border.

"This rule will decrease forum shopping by economic migrants and those who seek to exploit our asylum system to obtain entry to the United States," Barr said in a statement. 

Legal challenge likely

The policy is almost certain to face a legal challenge.

U.S. law allows refugees to request asylum when they arrive at the U.S. regardless of how they did so. There is an exception for those who have come through a country considered to be "safe," but the Immigration and Nationality Act, which governs asylum law, is vague on how a country is determined "safe"; it says "pursuant to a bilateral or multilateral agreement." 

Migrants from Guatemala are seen on the banks of the Rio Grande river before crossing illegally into the U.S. to turn themselves in to request asylum in El Paso, Texas, on June 11. The Trump administration on Monday moved to end asylum protections for most Central American migrants. (Jose Luis Gonzalez/Reuters)

Right now, the U.S. has such an agreement, known as a "safe third country," only with Canada. Under a recent agreement with Mexico, Central American countries were considering a regional compact on the issue, but nothing has been decided.

American Civil Liberties Union attorney Lee Gelernt, who has litigated some of the major challenges to the Trump administration's immigration policies, said the rule was unlawful. 

"The rule, if upheld, would effectively eliminate asylum for those at the southern border," he said. "But it is patently unlawful."

The new rule also will apply to the initial asylum screening, known as a "credible fear" interview, at which migrants must prove they have credible fears of returning to their home country. It applies to migrants who are arriving to the U.S., not those who are already in the country.

Trump administration officials say the changes are meant to close the gap between the initial asylum screening that most people pass and the final decision on asylum that most people do not win. But immigrant rights groups, religious leaders and humanitarian groups have said the Republican administration's policies amount to a cruel and callous effort to keep immigrants out of the country. 

Along with the administration's recent effort to send asylum seekers back over the border, Trump has tried to deny asylum to anyone crossing the border illegally and restrict who can claim asylum, and the attorney general recently tried to keep thousands of asylum seekers detained while their cases play out. 

Nearly all of those efforts have been blocked by courts. 

With files from Reuters

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