‘Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor … Europeans,’ Trump Official Says

WASHINGTON (AP) — A top Trump administration official says the famous inscription on the Statue of Liberty welcoming immigrants to the country is about “people coming from Europe” and that America is looking to receive immigrants “who can stand on their own two feet.”

Acting Director of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services Ken Cuccinelli, shown here Monday, says Emma Lazarus’ famous poem on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty refers to Europeans. (AP photo/Evan Vucci)

The comments Tuesday from Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, came a day after the Trump administration announced it would seek to deny green cards to immigrants who seek Medicaid, food stamps, housing vouchers or other forms of public assistance.

The move, and Cuccinelli’s defense, prompted an outcry from Democrats and immigration advocates who said the policy would favor wealthier immigrants and disadvantage those from poorer countries in Latin America and Africa.

“This administration finally admitted what we’ve known all along: They think the Statue of Liberty only applies to white people,” tweeted former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, a Democratic presidential candidate.

The administration’s proposed policy shift comes as President Donald Trump is leaning more heavily into the restrictive immigration policies that have energized his core supporters and were central to his 2016 victory. He has spoken disparagingly about immigration from majority black and Latino countries, including calling Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals when he launched his 2016 campaign. Last year, he branded Central American and African nations as “shithole” countries and he suggested the United States take in more immigrants from European countries like predominantly white Norway.

Cuccinelli said in an interview with CNN on Tuesday night that the Emma Lazarus poem emblazoned on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty referred to “people coming from Europe, where they had class-based societies where people were considered wretched if they weren’t in the right class.”

Lazarus’ sonnet, written in 1883 to raise money to construct the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal and cast in bronze beneath the monument in 1903, served as a beacon to millions of immigrants who crossed past as they entered the United States in New York Harbor. It makes no mention of economic self-sufficiency, concluding with the lines:

… “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!”

Cuccinelli was asked Tuesday on NPR whether the words “give me your tired, your poor” were part of the American ethos. Cuccinelli responded: “They certainly are. Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge.”

A hardline conservative from Virginia, Cuccinelli was a failed Republican candidate for governor in 2013 after serving as the state’s attorney general. He backed Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas for president in 2016 and for a time was a harsh critic of Trump.

He is one of a slew of immigration hardliners brought in by Trump to implement the president’s policies. He was appointed to the post in June in a temporary capacity, which does not require Senate confirmation.

Trump, asked Tuesday about Cuccinelli’s comments on NPR, backed him up.

“I don’t think it’s fair to have the American taxpayer paying for people to come into the United States,” Trump told reporters before boarding Air Force One for Pennsylvania. “I think we’re doing it right.”

Immigrant rights groups strongly criticized the Trump administration’s new rules for immigrants receiving public assistance, warning that the changes would scare people away from asking for needed help. They voiced concern that officials were being given too much authority to decide whether someone is likely to need public assistance.

Another Democratic presidential candidate, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, also condemned Cuccinelli’s comments.

“Our values are etched in stone on the Statue of Liberty. They will not be replaced,” she tweeted. “And I will fight for those values and for our immigrant communities.”

Here’s is Lazarus’ complete sonnet, written in 1883:

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “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!”

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