Hours after rewriting the famous words inscribed on the Statue of Liberty, Acting Director of Citizenship and Immigration Services Ken Cuccinelli went a step further on Tuesday night by insisting that Emma Lazarus’ poem about America accepting the world’s poor and huddled masses only referred to Europeans.
Discussing the Trump administration’s new rule that would penalize legal immigrants who utilize government benefits such as food stamps, Cuccinelli suggested to NPR on Tuesday morning a Trumpian change to Lazarus’ words.
“They certainly are,” he said when asked if the poem was part of the American ethos. “Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet, and who will not become a public charge."
Appearing on CNN’s Erin Burnett OutFront later Tuesday, the former Virginia attorney general was confronted over that moment, insisting to anchor Erin Burnett that it had been twisted by the left “all day.”
Quoting the actual poem to Cuccinelli—which definitely does not place a burden on immigrants to “stand on their own two feet”—Burnett said the poem about accepting those “yearning to breathe free” is what Lazarus said America is supposed to stand for. She went on to ask Cuccinelli: “So what do you think America stands for?”
“Well, of course that poem was referring back to people coming from Europe where they had class-based societies,” Cuccinelli, a one-time CNN political commentator, replied.
After essentially claiming the Statue of Liberty was only meant to welcome white immigrants, the Trump immigration boss went on to assert that the poem was written at the same time that the nation’s first public charge law was implemented.
Burnett countered that her grandparents came from Scotland with no education, noting that since they were allowed in this country she was able to become a news anchor. Cuccinelli, meanwhile, pointed to his own family’s immigration history while claiming that the new policy is not “exclusionary” but just “one factor” in determining who can stay.
This latest immigration policy change by the Trump administration will allow the government to deny permanent residency to any legal immigrants who they see as a financial burden on society. Besides citing applicants’ use of Medicaid or food assistance, officials can also deny them due to health, education level or income.