The iconic poem inscribed on the Statue of Liberty, written in 1883 by New York-born poet Emma Lazarus, has been changed by Ken Cuccinelli.
The original line of the poem read, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”. This reflected the freedom and safety of the U.S. for immigrants that were experiencing troubling times in their own countries.
However, on Monday Cuccinelli announced a change to the Public Charge rule that heavily favors wealthier and more educated immigrants. The change limits legal migrants from seeking certain public benefits such as public housing or food aid or those that are likely to use these benefits in the future.
The change will begin effecting immigration cases on October 15, 2019.
USCIS officials say this rule change is because they want to reinforce the “ideals of self-sufficiency” for immigrants. Critics say that it will prevent low-income U.S. residents from seeking help as well.
On Tuesday, Cuccinelli was asked by NPR whether the 1883 poem still applied to the U.S. views on immigration.
“Would you also agree that Emma Lazarus’ words etched on the Statue of Liberty, ‘Give me your tired, give me your poor’, are also part of the American ethos?” NPR’s Rachel Martin asked.
“They certainly are,” Cuccinelli responded, “Give me your tired and your poor – who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge.”
In the interview, he also added that immigrants are welcome “who can stand on their own two feet, be self-sufficient, pull themselves up by their bootstraps, again, as in the American tradition”.
When Cuccinelli was asked about his comments and if he was trying to re-write the poem, he insisted he was answering a question and accused people on the left of “twisting” his comments.
CNN anchor Erin Burnett asked Cuccinelli what he thinks America and the poem stand for, Cuccinelli replied: “Of course that poem was referring back to people coming from Europe – where they had class-based societies where people were considering wretched if they weren’t in the right class.”
The two then discussed their own immigrant ancestry, with Ms. Burnett pointing out his rule would have excluded her family from immigrating.
“I’m here because my family was allowed in, and I’m an anchor for CNN,” she said.
Beto O’Rouke, a Democratic presidential hopeful from Texas, shared a clip from the interview and said the comments show his Trump administration “think the Statue of Liberty only applies to white people”.
“It’s clear the Trump Administration just wants to keep certain people out,” the Democratic-led House Homeland Security Committee wrote, calling Cuccinelli “a xenophobic, anti-immigrant fringe figure who has no business being in government”.
Others pointed to his background as the attorney general of Virginia, in which he led a conservative campaign against immigration and homosexuality.
Asked about Mr Cuccinelli’s remarks on Tuesday, President Trump did not directly respond to the Statue of Liberty quote, but said: “I don’t think it’s fair to have the American taxpayer pay for people to come into the United States.”
“I’m tired of seeing our taxpayer paying for people to come into the country and immediately go onto welfare and various other things.
“So I think we’re doing it right.”