President Donald Trump’s top immigration official on Tuesday offered a revised version of the poem long displayed inside the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal that aligns more closely with the administration’s latest rule aimed at curbing the number of people who enter the United States legally. Trump immigration official offers rewrite for Statue of Liberty poem:

Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, was asked by NPR whether the words of Emma Lazarus’ “The New Colossus,” inscribed on a bronze tablet exhibited in the museum at the statue’s base, remain “part of the American ethos.”


“They certainly are,” Cuccinelli said. “Give me your tired and your poor — who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge.”

Cuccinelli’s comments come after the administration announced Monday a “public charge” regulation allowing federal officials to deny green cards to legal immigrants who have received certain public benefits or who are deemed likely to do so in the future.

Critics of the policy have argued it is at odds with Lazarus’ work, which reads in part: “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!”

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Later on Tuesday, Cuccinelli framed the poem as applying to a specific time and to people from a single region.

“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,” he told host Erin Burnett on CNN.

The “Cooch” is selectively picking one stanza from a long poem to express his uninformed opinion. Lazarus does refer to Europe when writing: “Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” But this long poem has much deeper and more nuanced meaning. Walt Hunter had a good analysis at The Atlantic, The Story Behind the Poem on the Statue of Liberty.

In any case, a pair of California cities have already sued the Trump administration for what amounts to a new Exclusion Act, not for Chinese this time, but for immigrants without sufficient financial means. I will note that historically, the vast majority of immigrants to America would have been excluded from immigration under this policy, including my own family (they came long before there were any federal social welfare programs). San Francisco, Santa Clara counties sue Trump administration over plan to deny some green cards:

Santa Clara and San Francisco counties jointly filed a lawsuit Tuesday challenging the Trump administration’s plan to deny green cards and visas to many immigrants who use public assistance such as Medicaid, food stamps and housing vouchers.

The suit, filed in the U.S District Court of Northern California, is the first legal volley in the nation fired against the so-called “public charge” rule, which the Trump administration unveiled in its final form on Monday. San Francisco and Santa Clara County previously sued the administration over its threat to deny federal funding to sanctuary cities.

“The Trump Administration’s new rule is an unlawful, foolish attack on immigrant communities,” Santa Clara County Counsel James Williams said in a written statement. “It will hurt all members of our communities by reducing access to critical health and safety-net services that create healthier communities for all of our residents.”

The change is one of the most aggressive attempts by the Trump administration to restrict legal immigration.

Federal law already requires people seeking permanent residency or legal status to prove they will not be a burden — or a “public charge” — to the United States. Current law factors cash assistance programs and/or long-term institutional care like Medicaid to stay at a nursing home in determining whether someone should be primarily reliant on the government for subsistence.

The new rule, which goes into effect on Oct. 15, broadens the factors that could disqualify a person to include public assistance programs such as Medicaid, food stamps and housing vouchers and considers factors like education, income and health.

Santa Clara and San Francisco counties, along with a number of immigrant advocacy groups, say the rule would force people to withdraw from benefits out of fear their immigration status could be affected. The lawsuit seeks a temporary injunction to block implementation of the rule and to ultimately invalidate it.

In a statement Tuesday, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera called the rule “rubbish” and said it would shift health care costs to local government while pushing more people into homelessness.

“This illegal rule is yet another attempt to vilify immigrants,” Herrera said. “This rule forces people to make an impossible choice: their health or a better future for their family. We will all bear the cost of this misguided policy, which will shift millions of dollars in health care costs onto the taxpayers of San Francisco and Santa Clara counties.”

The counties’ lawsuit contends that the new rule drastically and illegally expands the definition of who is considered a public charge to include those using even minimal public benefits without sufficient justification.

“This abrupt shift in policy undermines the Counties’ critical public health and safety net systems, is arbitrary and capricious, flouts federal law, and seeks to usurp Congress’ authority by administratively repealing its longstanding family-based immigration system,” the lawsuit states.

The National Immigration Law Center announced Monday its intent to file a lawsuit, calling the policy change an attempt to “redefine our legal immigration system in order to disenfranchise communities of color and favor the wealthy.”

In their joint statement, the counties said reduced access to health care will lead to increased public health threats such as communicable diseases; raise local health care costs by “millions of dollars a year” because people will forgo preventative care and wind up in the emergency room; and cause local grocery stores and businesses to lose food stamp dollars.

This attempt by the white nationalist Trump administration to redefine the American ethos and what it means to be an American reminded me of a song by Paul Simon, An American Tune (1975) (from The Concert in Central Park 1982):


Many’s the time I’ve been mistaken
And many times confused
Yes, and often felt forsaken
And certainly misused
But I’m all right, I’m all right
I’m just weary to my bones
Still, you don’t expect to be
Bright and bon vivant
So far away from home, so far away from home

And I don’t know a soul who’s not been battered
I don’t have a friend who feels at ease
I don’t know a dream that’s not been shattered
or driven to its knees
But it’s all right, it’s all right
We’ve lived so well so long
Still, when I think of the road
we’re traveling on
I wonder what went wrong
I can’t help it, I wonder what went wrong

And I dreamed I was dying
And I dreamed that my soul rose unexpectedly
And looking back down at me
Smiled reassuringly
And I dreamed I was flying
And high up above my eyes could clearly see
The Statue of Liberty
Sailing away to sea
And I dreamed I was flying

We come on the ship they call the Mayflower
We come on the ship that sailed the moon
We come in the age’s most uncertain hour
and sing an American tune
But it’s all right, it’s all right
You can’t be forever blessed
Still, tomorrow’s going to be another working day
And I’m trying to get some rest
That’s all I’m trying to get some rest

UPDATE 8/15/19: Daily Kos reports that 13 states sue Trump administration over public charge rule:

The attorneys general of 13 states have joined two California counties in suing the Trump administration over its discriminatory public charge rule change. “The Trump Administration’s message is clear: if you’re wealthy you’re welcome, if you’re poor, you’re not,” said Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson. “This rule is un-American, anti-immigrant and unlawful.”

Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Rhode Island, and Virginia “said in their lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington, that the new rule ‘effects a radical overhaul of federal immigration law transforming a system that promotes economic mobility among immigrants into one that advantages immigrants with wealth.’”

It’s a wealth test that accomplishes two goals: It punishes working immigrant families, and it stomps on legal immigration. “Over time, people who are granted green cards—the major step toward winning citizenship—will become wealthier but their numbers will shrink,” The New York Times reported.“Immigrants from Europe and Canada are least likely to face problems under the new regulations.” Donald Trump did wonder aloud why we don’t have more immigrants from Norway, after all.

“This illegal rule is yet another attempt to vilify immigrants,” said San Francisco city attorney Dennis Herrera in a separate lawsuit launched jointly with Santa Clara County earlier this week. While the state of California has not yet launched any legal action, it is expected to soon. “This vile rule is the Trump Administration’s latest attack on families and lower income communities of color,” said state Attorney General Xavier Becerra. “It will harm our communities, schools, and workplaces by weaponizing essential healthcare, housing, and nutrition programs.”