The base of the Statue of Liberty famously displays the words of Emma Lazarus, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” But, if Donald Trump ’s top immigration official had it his way, the poem would be revised to reflect the president’s “rich immigrants only” policy.
Speaking to NPR on Tuesday, the day after the administration unveiled a new rule that will penalize green card applicants for “financial liabilities” like having a low credit score or using Medicaid, Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, was asked if Lazarus’s poem, “The New Colossus,” remains “part of the American ethos.” To which Cuccinelli offered some suggested edits inspired by the executive branch’s take on who should or shouldn’t be allowed to live in the United States. “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.”
One day prior, Cuccinelli had told reporters at the White House that he was “certainly not prepared to take anything down off the Statue of Liberty,” though apparently, having slept on it, he’s now up for some kind of appendage. During his interview with NPR, Cuccinelli noted that the plaque bearing Lazarus’s words “was put on the Statue of Liberty at almost the same time as the first public charge was passed—very interesting timing.” It’s not at all clear what point he thought he was making.
Despite having zero actual experience in immigration policy, Cuccinelli was hired in May thanks to previous work sponsoring bills that tried to repeal birthright citizenship and would force employees to speak English in the workplace. (Had the latter passed, we assume Cuccinelli would have proposed revising the Statue of Liberty’s poem to read, “Speak English, bitch.”) In 2013, his mother told the Washington Post that as Christians, the Cuccinellis raised their children to “care [for] the poor” and that “if someone is starving, you want to bring him a meal, not a book on how to cook,” lessons her son apparently forgot. (Speaking of his Christian values, Cuccinelli has said that homosexuality “brings nothing but self-destruction, not only physically but of their soul.”)
This isn’t the first time a member of the Trump administration has cast aspersions on the whole “give me your tired, your poor,” business. Back in 2017, Stephen Miller, the president’s chief white rage officer, told Jim Acosta that he didn’t give a shit about the poem because it “was added later and is not part of the original Statue of Liberty.”