Trump immigration official Ken Cuccinelli offers own version of 'New Colossus' sonnet

Nicholas Wu

WASHINGTON – Acting U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Ken Cuccinelli gave a new interpretation of the famous Emma Lazarus sonnet in response to a question about the White House's "public charge" rule that could disqualify many indigent immigrants from entering the U.S.

On Monday, President Donald Trump's administration issued a new rule that would allow officials to deny green cards to migrants if officials believe they would require public assistance, or those at risk of becoming a "public charge." The rule would go into effect on October 15. 

Appearing on NPR's "Morning Edition," Cuccinelli was asked by host Rachel Martin if the sonnet, which reads "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free," would still be part of the "American ethos" under the new rule.

"They certainly are," Cuccinelli replied, before offering a revised version of the sonnet:

“Give me your tired, your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge,” he told Martin. "That plaque was put on the Statue of Liberty at almost the first time the first public charge law was passed." 

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Cuccinelli oversees the division of the Department of Homeland Security tasked with administering immigration and naturalization processes. 

He also referenced his own heritage during the interview when asked what kinds of immigrants would be welcome in the U.S. under the new rule. 

"All immigrants who can stand on their own two feet, be self-sufficient, pull themselves up by their bootstraps, again, as in the American tradition," he said. "My Italian-Irish heritage looks back at that. Most people in America look back at that, and that's what we expect going forward."

Martin countered that the rule "appears to change the definition of the American dream," and noted how many Americans had come "with nothing" and succeeded after accessing legally available government assistance. 

"We invite people to come here and join us as a privilege. No one has a right to become an American who isn't born here as an American," Cuccinelli responded. 

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The Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank, found in a November 2018 report that the proposed rule could substantially decrease the number of green cards issued because of the number of migrants disqualified for being on public assistance. 

They also found that the proposed rule would likely "disproportionately affect women, children, and the elderly," deter migrants from enrolling in public assistance programs, and could reorient immigrants' origins away from Latin America and Asia and towards other regions, including Europe. 

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump immigration official Cuccinelli offers own take on 'New Colossus'