Ken Cuccinelli, acting director for the United States Citizenship And Immigration Services, on Tuesday suggested changes to the Emma Lazarus poem, which adorns the Statue of Liberty, that would match up better with the administration’s new rule changes limiting immigration for poorer migrants.
Mr. Cuccinelli was asked on NPR whether Ms. Lazarus’ words in the poem “The New Colossus,” — which reads, in part: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” — was “a part of the American ethos.”
“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,” he responded.
The comments come after the Trump administration announced “public charge” regulations that would allow officials to deny green cards to people who have previously used public assistance or could need assistance in the future.
Critics have said the laws are at odds with the poem’s message, which has been etched into a bronze plaque on the Statue of Liberty, an iconic New York monument that greeted migrants from overseas before they debarked on Ellis Island.
When asked whether the “public charge” rule changes conflicted with the poem Monday at a White House press briefing, Mr. Cuccinelli said, “I’m certainly not prepared to take anything down off the Statue of Liberty.”
Mr. Cuccinelli pointed out that the Statue of Liberty was erected in the 1880s — at the same time as the U.S. was enacting its first major immigration laws that required new arrivals to be self-sufficient.
Lazarus’s “New Colossus” was written in 1883 as part of an effort to raise funds to build the base for the statue, which was a gift from France. The poem wasn’t added to the statue until 1903.
• Stephen Dinan contributed to this article.