Do Federal Guidelines List ‘Go Back Where You Came From’ as an Example of Harassment?

On July 16 2019, producer Nick Ramsey sent a tweet referencing a controversy involving U.S. President Donald Trump’s suggestion that people unhappy with the United States should “go back to where they came from”:

Ramsey referenced a controversy which arose in response to tweets published by Trump on July 14 2019:

In the tweets, Trump did not reference any “Democrat women” by name, but it was widely presumed he was addressing four lawmakers: Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Ayanna Pressley. Trump also did not exactly say “go back where you came from,” a paraphrasing of his actual commentary:

“[These Democratic congresswomen should] go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came[.]”

Of the four women presumed to be referenced in the tweets, all are citizens of the United States, three by birth and one who came to the country as a small child:

Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib and Pressley were all born in the United States. Omar, a Somalian refugee, immigrated to the U.S. with her family in the early 1990s.

Omar became a citizen in 2000.

According to Ramsey, the general paraphrased statement “go back where you came from” appears in federal agency guidelines as a “textbook example of harassment” based on national origin — which is true and accurate.

The guidance in question appears on an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) page, “Immigrants’ Employment Rights Under Federal Anti-Discrimination Laws,” which begins:

Immigrants are protected from employment discrimination by laws enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). This pamphlet answers questions often asked by people who think that they have suffered discrimination in employment. It describes what the law covers, how to file a complaint, and typical examples of employment discrimination.

A relevant passage reads:

Harassment Based on National Origin

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. 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 by co-workers.

The phrase “go back where you came from” is also used as an example of potentially unlawful activity. It bears mentioning that the passage was neither relevant nor actionable, since the lawmakers were neither employees of Trump nor (in three of four cases) did they actually emigrate to the United States. Nonetheless, the claim is accurate — the EEOC does illustrate “harassment based on national origin” with the example of telling people to “go back where they came from.”