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Cuccinelli's ‘white’ label on Liberty statue poem

Ken Cuccinelli said that America is looking to receive migrants “who can stand on their own two feet”

By AP in Washington
  • Published 15.08.19, 12:31 AM
  • Updated 15.08.19, 12:31 AM
  • 2 mins read
  •  
Acting Director of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services Ken Cuccinelli, speaks during a briefing at the White House, on Monday, August 12, 2019, in Washington. AP

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

The comments on Tuesday from Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director of US 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.

“This administration finally admitted what we've known all along: They think the Statue of Liberty only applies to white people,” tweeted former Texas Representative 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 energised his core supporters.

He has also spoken disparagingly about immigration from majority black and Hispanic countries, including calling Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals when he launched his 2016 campaign.

Last year, he privately branded Central American and African nations as “shithole” countries and he suggested the US 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’ 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 US 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.”