Trump's Acting Immigration Chief Parrots White Nationalist Talking Points, Says Statue of Liberty Only Symbolizes Immigration for White Europeans. Yes, He Said That.

August 14th 2019

Creative license with Statue of Liberty poem ( Dave Whamond ,

Creative license with Statue of Liberty poem (Dave Whamond,

By Bill Berkowitz

Emma Lazurus was quintessentially an American: According to Wikipedia, One of her great-grandfathers on the Lazarus side was from Germany; the rest of her Lazarus and Nathan ancestors were originally from Portugal and resident in New York long before the American Revolution, being among the original twenty-three Portuguese Jews who arrived in New Amsterdam fleeing the Inquisition from their settlement of Recife, Brazil. The fleeing immigrants likely had very little with them when they came to this country. In 1883, Lazarus an American activist, poet, and author of prose, and translations wrote the sonnet "The New Colossus." In 1903, lines from the sonnet were inscribed on a bronze plaque on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty.

Lazarus’s “The New Colossus” reads: 

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!”

Think about Lazarus’s words, which are not only etched into a plaque on the Statue of Liberty, but are also etched into the very foundation of what it means to become an American, when you read about Ken Cuccinelli’s version of who has a legitimate right to become an American citizen.    

In a recent interview on NPR’s Morning Edition, Ken Cuccinelli was asked about Emma Lazarus’ inspirational words on the Statue of Liberty: "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?" Rachel Martin asked Cuccinelli. 

The former attorney general of Virginia, a CNN political commentator, and current Acting Director of Citizenship and Immigration Services, 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. 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 later told CNN that Lazarus’s words “Well, of course that poem was referring back to people coming from Europe where they had class-based societies.” 

Common Dreams reported that  Cuccinelli’s appearance on NPR came a day after he “announced the administration was proposing new immigration rules that would require prospective green card applicants to show evidence that they would not likely require government assistance at  any point in the future if they were granted foreign worker or permanent residency status.”

“Cuccinelli may as well have this engraved on a plaque, hang it around his neck, and wear it for the rest of his life,” tweeted Omar Jadwat, director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project.

According to CBS News, the new policy “would require caseworkers to consider the use of government housing, food, and medical assistance such as the widely-used Section 8 housing vouchers, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and Medicare’s Part D prescription drug coverage” when examining permanent residency applications.”

“If they don’t have future prospects of being legal permanent residents without welfare, that will be counted against them,” Cuccinelli said. “All immigrants who can stand on their own two feet, self-sufficient, pull themselves up by their bootstraps,” would be welcome, he added.

I don’t know where Ken Cuccinelli’s ancestors came from, and I don’t know how much money they brought with them, or immediately self-sufficient they were.  Donald Trump's mother, Mary Anne MacLeod, came from the Hebridean Isle of Lewis, off the west coast of Scotland. Trump's paternal ancestry is traceable to Bobenheim am Berg, a village in the Palatinate, Germany, in the 18th century. Fred C. Trump was prone to hiding his German roots, going so far as telling people that he was of Swedish ancestry.

Marielena Hincapié, the executive director of the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), the main organization dedicated to defending and advancing the rights of low-income immigrants in the US, told Vox’s Aaron Rupar that “the most immediate impact has been a humanitarian impact, in that there’s a chilling effect. The estimates from researchers is that about 26 million people would be impacted by this new rule, which we believe is a racially motivated rule to change the face of who we are as a nation.”

Hincapié dismissed Cuccinelli’s stated rationale as “spin” meant to obfuscate from what she sees as a reality in Trump’s America that “if you are brown and you are an immigrant, you are not welcome here.”