Ken Cuccinelli, the acting head of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, on Aug. 13, offered a revised version of the poem affixed to the base of the Statue of Liberty, to defend the Trump administration’s new policy that could force immigrants to decide between accepting public services or accepting a green card.
Cuccinelli cited part of Emma Lazarus’s famous poem, changing the language to argue that the United States wants immigrants who can “stand on their own two feet” and be “self-sufficient.”
“Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge,” Cuccinelli said on NPR’s “Morning Edition” when asked if Lazarus’s poem, “The New Colossus,” was part of the American ethos.
The administration on Monday issued a “public charge” regulation allowing federal officials to deny green cards to legal immigrants who have received certain public benefits or who are deemed likely to do so in the future.
Critics of the policy have said it is at odds with the Lazarus poem, which reads “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
The poem, affixed to the statue that for decades greeted immigrants arriving in New York at Ellis Island, has long been interpreted as a welcome mat for those seeking refuge in the United States.
Cuccinelli told reporters at the White House, on Aug. 12 that the “public charge” change promotes “the ideals of self-sufficiency and personal responsibility.”
“We certainly expect people of any income to be able to stand on their own two feet. If people are not able to be self-sufficient, then this negative factor is going to bear very heavily against them in a decision about whether they’ll be able to become a legal permanent resident,” he said. “A poor person can be prepared to be self-sufficient. Many have been through the history of this country. Let’s not look at that as the be all and end all, it’s not the deciding factor. Which is why we continue to use the totality of circumstances test.”
“I’m certainly not prepared to take anything down off the Statue of Liberty. We have a long history of being one of the most welcoming nations in the world on a lot of bases,” Cuccinelli added. “Whether you be an asylee, whether you be coming here to joining your family, or immigrating yourself.”