Statue of Liberty Poem Gets a New Twist

'Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet," says immigration official Ken Cuccinelli
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 13, 2019 2:13 PM CDT
Immigration Official Puts New Spin on a Famous Poem
Director of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services Ken Cuccinelli speaks during a briefing at the White House, Monday, Aug. 12, 2019, in Washington.   (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

A major change to US immigration law unveiled on Monday has drawn attention to the famous poem on the Statue of Liberty that welcomes the "huddled masses" to US shores. The new law will favor would-be citizens who can step right into a job over those who might need federal assistance. That being the case, Rachel Martin of NPR asked Ken Cuccinelli—acting director of Citizenship and Immigration Services—whether the poem still applies. "Would you also agree that Emma Lazarus's words etched on the Statue of Liberty, 'Give me your tired, give me your poor,' are also a part of the American ethos?" she asked. "They certainly are," said Cuccinelli, before adding a new twist to the words: "Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge."

A "public charge" is the government term for those who are a burden to the US, per the AP. "That plaque was put on the Statue of Liberty at almost the same time as the first public charge was passed—very interesting timing," Cuccinelli added. CBS News notes that he's a bit off on that: The plaque went up on the already erected statue in 1907, and the first public charge law went into effect in 1882. The issue has come up previously. White House aide and immigration hard-liner Stephen Miller was asked about the poem in 2017 while pushing a skills-based immigration system over one that emphasizes family ties. "I don't want to get off into a whole thing about history here, but the Statue of Liberty is a symbol of liberty enlightening the world," he said. "The poem that you're referring to was added later, it's not actually part of the original Statue of Liberty." (Read more immigration stories.)

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