President Donald Trump’s top immigration official on Tuesday offered a revised version of the poem long displayed inside the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal that aligns more closely with the administration’s latest rule aimed at curbing the number of people who enter the United States legally.
Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, was asked by NPR whether the words of Emma Lazarus’ “The New Colossus,” inscribed on a bronze tablet exhibited in the museum at the statue’s base, remain “part of the American ethos.”
Story Continued Below
“They certainly are,” Cuccinelli said. “Give me your tired and your poor — who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge.”
Cuccinelli’s comments come after the administration announced Monday 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 argued it is at odds with Lazarus’ work, which reads in part: “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 sonnet, associated with the torch-wielding lady who for decades greeted immigrants arriving in New York at Ellis Island, has long been interpreted as a message of welcome for those seeking refuge in the U.S.
Cuccinelli was pressed on its relevance Monday while addressing the “public charge” policy during a White House news briefing.
“Is that sentiment ― ‘Give us your tired, your poor’ ― still operative in the United States, or should those words come down?” CBS News Radio correspondent Steven Portnoy asked him.
“I’m certainly not prepared to take anything down off the Statue of Liberty,” Cuccinelli replied.
Later on Tuesday, Cuccinelli framed the poem as applying to a specific time and to people from a single region.
“Of course, that poem was referring back to people coming from Europe, where they had class-based societies, where people were considered wretched if they weren’t in the right class,” he told host Erin Burnett on CNN.