‘Poor Who Can Stand On Own Two Feet’: Trump’s Top Immigration Official Reimagines Statue Of Liberty Poem

Both Donald Trump and current acting head of the U.S. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Ken Cuccinelli said today that the iconic sonnet inscribed on the Statue of Liberty should be changed.

The original, written in 1883 Emma Lazarus, calls the statue the “Mother of exiles” who says:

“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 said it first, on NPR, suggesting that the plaque containing the poem be changed to say “give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet, and who will not become a public charge.”

He expressed this in order to defend a change in immigration policy that went into effect yesterday that will penalize green-card applicants if they dare to access essential government benefits such as food stamps or Medicaid. This is part of an effort to ensure that the only people who are allowed to migrate to the U.S. are people who don’t really need to but just feel like it. Anybody deemed to be in need of government services can be denied access to a green card, which will undoubtedly increase the number of undocumented immigrants.

“Would you also agree that Emma Lazarus’ words etched on the Statue of Liberty, ‘give me your tired, your poor,’ are also part of the American ethos?” NPR host Rachel Martin asked during the interview.

“They certainly are,” Cuccinelli replied. “Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet, and who will not become a public charge.”

That’s not what the poem says.

However, when asked about the new policy and proposed changes to the very old and iconic Statue of Liberty poem, Donald Trump agreed with his Citizenship and Immigration Services director.

“Well, I don’t think it’s fair for the American taxpayer – you know, it’s about America First – I don’t think it’s fair to have the American taxpayer pay for people to come into the United States,” Trump said to the press on the White House lawn. “So what we’ve done is institute what took place many, many years ago at our founding, firstly, but we are just re-instituting it, and I think it’s long overdue.”

Trump is referring to “public charge” laws, which have been on and off the books for centuries, that generally declare that in order to be approved to immigrate to the U.S., the individual needs to have more going for them than the first white “pilgrims” who fled here from religious persecution in Europe.

This new turn toward public charge laws is an alarming trend during a time when human migration is happening at higher rates than normal due to war, persecution, and, increasingly, climate change.