Trump Immigration Head Rewrites Iconic Statue of Liberty Poem to Justify New Immigration Restrictions

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A top Trump immigration official offered an edit to the iconic poem engraved on the Statue of Liberty in the wake of the Administration’s newly announced plan making it tougher for some immigrants to obtain green cards.
Schoolchildren nationwide are often taught Emma Lazarus’s sonnet “The New Colossus,” which reads, in part, “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
But U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services acting director Ken Cuccinelli suggested a tweak to the poem while speaking with NPR Tuesday morning.
“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 while trying to justify the new rule from the Trump administration that will limit legal immigration.

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Cuccinelli made the comment a day after he announced the new plan to deny green cards to applicants who use public assistance, such as Medicaid and food stamps. Starting in October, immigration services will measure whether applicants are likely to become a “public charge” for using public assistance services — and that factor will weigh against them in green card consideration, he said.

The acting immigration head also addressed Lazarus’ poem during Monday’s announcement, when he was asked if the words should be removed in the wake of the new rule. “Well, I’m certainly not prepared to take anything down off the Statue of Liberty,” he told reporters. “We have a long history of being one of the most welcoming nations in the world on a lot of bases — whether you be an asylee, whether you be coming here to join your family or immigrating yourself.”
The move was heavily criticized by immigration rights groups who argue that the Trump Administration is aiming to reduce legal immigration. While federal law enables immigration officials to determine whether applicants will be a burden, the new rule breaks down exactly who will be considered a “public charge.” Under the regulation, an applicant who receives one or more designated forms of public assistance for more than 12 months in aggregate within a 36-month period would have that weigh against them in the process of getting a green card, Cuccinelli said.

Cuccinelli argued that the new rule would help to ensure that immigrants won’t become a burden, touting what the administration sees as the virtues of self-sufficiency during Monday’s announcement. He rejected criticism that the regulation targets poor people. “A poor person can be prepared to be self-sufficient,” he said. “Many have been through the history of this country. So let’s not look at that as the be-all, end-all, and it’s not the deciding factor.”
Speaking with NPR on Tuesday, Cuccinelli said welfare benefits would be one among several factors officials will use to consider whether an applicant would be a “public charge.” “If they don’t have future prospects of being legal permanent residents without welfare, that will be counted against them,” he said.
When asked if Lazarus’ words on the Statue of Liberty — “Give me your tired, your poor” — were still a part of the American ethos, Cuccinelli responded: “They certainly are,” before adding that any “tired and poor” people who came to the U.S. should be able to “stand on their own two feet” and not “become a public charge.”

Later on Tuesday, Trump weighed in on Cuccinelli’s additions to the poem. Asked if there should be changes to the Statue of Liberty poem, he replied, “It’s about America first. I don’t think it’s fair to have the American taxpayer pay for people to come in to the United States … I’m tired of seeing our taxpayer paying for people to come into the country and immediately go on welfare and various other things. So I think we’re doing it right.”

Write to Mahita Gajanan at [email protected]

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