A top Trump administration official says the famous inscription on the Statue of Liberty, welcoming “huddled masses” of immigrants to American shores, was referring to “people coming from Europe” and that the nation is looking to receive migrants “who can stand on their own two feet.”
The comments on Tuesday from Ken Cuccinelli, the 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 migrants 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.
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’ poem, 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 first entered the U.S. in New York Harbor. It reads, “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”
Cuccinelli was asked earlier 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.”
Philadelphia poet Sonia Sanchez read the entire poem for WHYY’s CommonSpace in February 2017.
The New Colossus
By Emma Lazarus
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!”