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Cuccinelli rewrites Lazarus poem to defend new immigration plan

Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of Citizenship and Immigration

Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of Citizenship and Immigration Services, on Monday. Credit: EPA / Erik S. Lesser

WASHINGTON — The acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Ken Cuccinelli, offered a revision to the iconic poem that has adorned the base of the Statue of Liberty for more than a century as he defended the Trump administration’s new plan to restrict legal immigration.

"Give me your tired and your poor — who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge,” Cuccinelli told NPR’s “Morning Edition” on Tuesday when asked if Emma Lazarus’ famous poem was still part of "the American ethos.”

Lazarus’ poem — “The New Colossus” — was written in 1883 and added to the statue’s pedestal in 1903. The ode to generations of immigrants seeking refuge in the United States has long been invoked in speeches, songs and films.

The poem’s signature lines read:  “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!”

The question to Cuccinelli came a day after the Trump administration unveiled new criteria that will allow the federal government to deny green cards and visas to applicants enrolled in public assistance programs, or those the government deems will eventually require aid in the form of food stamps, Medicaid or housing vouchers.

Immigration advocacy groups have argued the new requirements target low-income immigrants in favor of wealthier ones, and say the restrictions are a means of curtailing overall legal immigration. Several groups and states, including New York, have said they will sue in federal court to stop the Oct. 15 implementation of the new “public charge” rules.

“Under this rule, children will go hungry; families will go without medical care. I am committed to defending all of New York’s communities, which is why I intend to sue the Trump Administration over this egregious rule,” New York Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement.

Cuccinelli has defended the new rules, saying they promote “self- sufficiency.” The rules expand on previous criteria enacted in the 1990s that allowed the federal government to deny visas and green cards to those applicants enrolled in welfare programs and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). The original "public charge" rules date to the 1800s.

President Donald Trump, speaking to reporters in New Jersey, where he is vacationing for the week, defended the new criteria when asked to weigh in on Cuccinelli’s interview.

“It’s about America First,” Trump said repeating his 2016 campaign slogan.


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