WASHINGTON, D.C. -- United States Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.), along with Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) and Representatives G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), and Karen Bass (D-CA) today sent a letter requesting further information about the State Department’s handling of complaints by Tianna Spears, a Foreign Service Officer who was repeatedly racially harassed while posted at the U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico . The letter also urges the Department of State to address and identify steps being taken to increase the number of minorities that enter and remain in the Foreign Service.
As profiled by the New York Times, Tianna Spears frequently experienced harassment by fellow U.S. government officials at the U.S.-Mexico border, often being subjected to more invasive inspections than her non-Black coworkers. Unfortunately, these instances of U.S. Foreign Service employees experiencing racially-charged harassment by United States officials are not uncommon. Former U.S. Ambassador Charles Ray, who served in the State Department for 30 years, recently recounted the repeated instances of mistreatment he experienced at U.S. ports of entry during his career.
“As you know, racial minorities are still underrepresented in the Foreign Service, particularly in the senior ranks, and employees that have come forward with similar cases often do so anonymously due to fears of retribution,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Acting Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Michael Kozak and Carol Perez, the Director General of the U.S. Foreign Service. “Anecdotally, we hear many more stories of this type from U.S. Foreign Service employees and their families, who are often harassed by CBP at numerous ports of entry (air and land), based on their racial or ethnic origin. This is unacceptable.”
As of this year, the proportion of African Americans serving in the State Department has decreased, according to a study done by theGovernment Accountability Office (GAO). It was also found that there were differences in promotion outcomes when comparing African Americans to their white colleagues.
“Foreign Service employees should be welcomed home and thanked for their service upon their return from duty, not worried about being harassed by their fellow Americans,” the lawmakers wrote. The racially and ethnically based harassment and abusive treatment described in these accounts contributes to an unhealthy and inexcusable environment for Foreign Service and State Department personnel.”
The letter was also signed by Senators Cardin (D-MD), Shaheen (D-NH), Coons (D-DE), Udall (D-NM), Murphy (D-CT), Kaine (D-VA), Merkley (D-OR), as well as Representatives Sherman (D-CA), Espaillat (D-NY), Meeks (D-NY), Castro (D-TX), Wild (D-PA), Cicilline (D-RI), Costa (D-CA), Vargas (D-CA), Sires (D-NJ), Levin (D-MI), Trone (D-MD), Alred (D-TX), Phillips (D-MN), Deutch D-FL), Omar (D-MN), Price (D-NC), Adams, Ph.D (D-NC).
The full text of the letter is available here.