Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, has ideas for some MAGA-friendly edits to Emma Lazarus’s “The New Colossus,” the poem inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty. In an interview with NPR on Tuesday, Cuccinelli was asked if Lazarus’s words — specifically “give me your tired, your poor” — are still a part of the American ethos.
“They certainly are,” he said, before adding a clause to the sonnet that changed its entire meaning. “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. The “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” are apparently welcome in the U.S. if they have fat bank accounts.
Cuccinelli’s additions to Lazarus’s words come as the Trump administration is pushing a so-called “public charge” rule. The policy aims to restrict non-cash public benefits, such as food stamps, health-care benefits, and housing assistance, for legal immigrants.
Immigrant advocates say the rule will have two primary effects. First, it will make it harder for low-income immigrants to legally enter the U.S. Second, it will make life harder on legal immigrants who are already here. Marielena Hincapié, the executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, explained in an interview with Vox:
We have already seen families who are forgoing necessary treatment like chemotherapy, preventive care, reproductive care — any kind of care — nutritional assistance for newborns. Many families who are deciding to dis-enroll in a whole range of programs because they are afraid they are being made to choose between taking care of themselves and their families or eventually being permanently separated from their families if, at the time they apply for their green card, they are denied because they are deemed to be a “public charge.”
That Cuccinelli is the face of this anti-immigrant policy is little surprise. Before joining the Trump administration in an acting role, which does not require Senate confirmation, Cuccinelli was best known as an anti-immigrant hawk who has supported repealing birthright citizenship. In the Trump administration, he appears to have found his home.