“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!” Those are the words of Emma Lazarus inscribed on the Statue of Liberty. But this week, acting Director of Citizenship and Immigration Services Ken Cuccinelli attempted to rewrite the poem to make a case for limiting immigration to the United States. He told NPR’s Rachel Martin on Tuesday that the Statue of Liberty’s message is “Give me your tired and your poor, who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge.” Facing outrage, Cuccinelli then doubled down on his comments, telling CNN that the words on the Statue of Liberty are about “people coming from Europe.” We speak with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Sonia Nazario about the comments and recent moves by the Trump administration to thwart immigration and target immigrants already in the U.S. Nazario says, “It’s a wholesale attempt to change who’s allowed into this country: Give us your rich; don’t give us your poor. And, of course, this is contrary to the entire tradition of immigration to the United States.”
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: “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!” Those are the words of Emma Lazarus inscribed on the Statue of Liberty.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, this week, the acting director of Citizenship and Immigration Services, Ken Cuccinelli, attempted to rewrite the poem in an effort to make a case for limiting immigration to the United States. This is Cuccinelli speaking to NPR’s Rachel Martin Tuesday.
RACHEL MARTIN: Would you also agree that Emma Lazarus’s words etched on the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor,” are also part of the American ethos?
KEN CUCCINELLI: 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 law was passed. Very interesting timing.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Ken Cuccinelli made the comment a day after the Trump administration announced a new rule that would make it harder for documented, low-income immigrants to stay in the country. The so-called public charge rule would penalize immigrants seeking benefits, including Medicaid, food stamps and housing vouchers, by allowing officials to deny green cards and visa applications to those individuals. On Tuesday night, Ken Cuccinelli defended his comments in an interview with CNN’s Erin Burnett.
ERIN BURNETT: What do you think America stands for?
KEN CUCCINELLI: Well, of course, that poem was referring back to people coming from Europe, where they had class-based societies, where people were considered wretched if they weren’t in the right class.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we turn now to the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Sonia Nazario, who has closely documented why migrants from Central America are fleeing their homes. Earlier this year, Nazario spent a month in Honduras documenting how corruption and gang violence are forcing many people to leave. She recently wrote about her trip in a piece headlined “Pay or Die” in The New York Times. Nazario won a Pulitzer Prize in 2003 for reporting on what became her acclaimed book, Enrique’s Journey: The Story of a Boy’s Dangerous Odyssey to Reunite with His Mother.
Sonia Nazario, welcome back to Democracy Now! Before we talk about this remarkable piece you wrote, if you could respond to President Trump’s immigration czar, Cuccinelli, rewriting the words of Emma Lazarus’s poem?
SONIA NAZARIO: Well, I think most Americans disagree with him. And it’s a wholesale attempt to change who’s allowed into this country: Give us your rich; don’t give us your poor. And, of course, this is contrary to the entire tradition of immigration to the United States. So, this is what the administration is attempting to do.
AMY GOODMAN: And then saying, in fact, those words were written about Europeans.
SONIA NAZARIO: That’s right. Well, at the time, they were largely Europeans who were coming. But in 1965, we changed our immigration laws to amplify who could come to this country legally, and that is the law of the land.
AMY GOODMAN: On Tuesday, President Trump was asked to respond to Ken Cuccinelli’s comment.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: You know, it’s about America first. … I am tired of seeing our taxpayer paying for people to come into the country and immediately go onto welfare and various other things. So I think we’re doing it right.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Sonia Nazario, your response to the president’s comments?
SONIA NAZARIO: Well, the reality is that immigrants who come here legally are no more likely to be on welfare than people who are born in this country. So, you’re again targeting immigrants. You’re scapegoating immigrants. And the reality is that immigrants who have come to this country, whether they are poor or rich, are what have made America great.