The Trump official who’s leading the charge for new rules against immigrants who seek any U.S. public assistance doubled down Tuesday on his hard-line anti-immigration stance.
What’s striking is his target: the words of welcome on the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor:
“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!”
Those stirring lines from “The New Colossus,” a sonnet by Emma Lazarus, appear on a tablet installed on the statue’s base in 1903.
But for Trump’s acting Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Ken Cuccinelli, they no longer represent America’s view of prospective immigrants.
In an interview Tuesday on NPR, Cuccinelli was asked by host Rachel Martin if he believes Lazarus’s words are still “part of the American ethos.”
Cuccinelli said yes — but they should be altered:
“Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge,” he said.
This drew angry responses from many on Twitter, including Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke of Texas, who denounced “the racist whims of this administration.”
“This is not the first time the Trump administration’s effort to curtail legal immigration has brought it into public conflict with the Statue of Liberty,” says Vox, recalling a 2017 CNN interview with Trump policy adviser Stephen Miller.
Asked essentially the same question as was Cuccinelli, Miller noted the “New Colossus” plaque wasn’t placed on the statue until nearly two decades after it was dedicated.
“Miller’s talking point didn’t really help matters, as it echoed one commonly used by white nationalists like [former Klan leader] David Duke and [neo-Nazi] Richard Spencer to suggest that Lazarus somehow perverted the true meaning of the statue,” Vox says.
In Tuesday’s NPR interview, Cuccinelli defended what’s known as the “public charge” rule he announced on Monday, and which will be published Wednesday in the Federal Register. According to plan, it will take effect on Oct. 15.
“If [immigrants] don’t have future prospects of being legal permanent residents without welfare, that will be counted against them,” Cuccinelli said.
This, says NPR, “would make it more difficult for immigrants who came to the country legally to stay as permanent residents if they’ve used, or are seen as likely to use, public benefits like food stamps … housing vouchers, or Medicaid. In short, it would make the American dream harder to obtain for low-income immigrants.”