Statue of Liberty poem: Trump immigration official rewrites famous lines to exclude certain groups

The acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services gave an interview Tuesday in which he changed the words of the famous poem written on the Statue of Liberty's pedestal, suggesting that it only applies to immigrants who can "stand on their own two feet." 

Ken Cuccinelli, who currently heads the organization, said on NPR's Morning Edition that "The New Colossus" — the sonnet which has often been a symbol of America's welcoming immigration policy — could use a notable change. 

"Give me your tired, your poor," the original poem reads. "Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." 

Cuccinelli suggested those lines should be revised to say: "Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge."

The quote came after Cuccinelli was asked about the Trump administration's new "public charge" rule, which would allow officials to deny green cards to migrants if they believe they would receive public benefits such as food stamps, Medicaid or housing vouchers. The rule, which will take effect starting Oct. 15, was announced Monday. 

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The forearm and torch of the Statue of Liberty on display at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, 1876. In order to raise funds for the completion of the statue and its pedestal members of the public could pay fifty cents to climb to the balcony of the torch. (Photo by FPG/Getty Images)
Segments of the Statue of Liberty during its construction in the workshop of French sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, Paris, France, circa 1880. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
circa 1884: The left hand of the Statue of Liberty under construction. Sixty men have worked for almost ten years on the various parts of the statue, not including its designer Frederic Bartholdi and his assistants. Original Publication: From The Strand Magazine. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
The feet of the Statue of Liberty arrive on Liberty Island 1885. The statue was a gift from the people of France to the United States, It represents Libertas, the Roman goddess of freedom. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)
View of portions of the Statue of Liberty during its construction in the workshop of French sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, Paris, France, circa 1880. Bartholdi stands at left. (Photo by Musee Bartholdi/Authenticated News/Getty Images)
Statue of Liberty, New York City, USA, 20th century. Officially titled 'Liberty Enlightening the World', the Statue of Liberty was sculpted by Frederic Auguste Bartholdi. Dedicated in 1886, it was a gift to the United States from France to commemorate the friendship between the two countries. Sunbeam Tours stereoscopic card detail. (Photo by The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images)
View of the head of the Statue of Liberty, designed by sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, on display on the Champ de Mars, Paris, France, 1878. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi, the creator of the Statue of Liberty, explains the inner construction of the Hand section of the statue to a visitor. (Photo by Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)
(Original Caption) New York, NY: Statue of Liberty Toes and base of torch on ground prepatory to being hoisted into position onto the pedestal on Bedloes Island. Undated Photograph. BPA2# 1885
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"Through the public charge rule, President Trump's administration is re-enforcing the ideals of self-sufficiency and personal responsibility, ensuring that immigrants are able to support themselves and become successful here in America," Cuccinelli said of the new policy

Cuccinelli has since been critical of the media's response to his comments surrounding the poem. 

"I was answering a question. I wasn't writing poetry," he told CNN's Erin Burnett on Tuesday. "Don't change the facts. You're twisting this like everybody else on the left has done all day today." 

However, the immigration director has stood by his comments, writing in a CNN op-ed Tuesday that "self-sufficiency has been a core tenet of the American dream." He also said that the poem specifically refers to European immigrants. 

"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," Cuccinelli told CNN Tuesday. 

"The New Colossus," was written by poet Emma Lazurus in 1883 as part of a fundraising project during the Statue of Liberty's construction. In 1903, it was engraved onto a bronze plaque and at the statue's base. 

Cuccinelli clarified that there are no official plans to change anything about the statue, or its famous poem. 

"I do not think, by any means, we're ready to take anything off the Statue of Liberty," he said Monday.

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