Trump immigration chief makes himself clear: Statue of Liberty poem was about Europeans, so …

Ken Cuccinelli

First Donald Trump’s acting director of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services agency, Ken Cuccinelli, explained that we should add a few words to the poem on the Statue of Liberty. Now he has a whole new rewrite of Emma Lazarus’ “The New Colossus,” and this one is colossally racist.

Lazarus’ poem says “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!” But on Tuesday morning Cuccinelli claimed that meant “Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet, and who will not become a public charge.” And on Tuesday night, he took it a step further, saying the poem was “referring back to people coming from Europe.”

Presumably in an effort to sound a little less racist—and here we should note that the ship long since sailed when it comes to Ken Cuccinelli not sounding racist—Cuccinelli then offered a history lesson in which those people coming from Europe were coming from “class-based societies, where people were considered wretched if they weren’t in the right class.” And, uh, did “homeless” have a different meaning, too, Ken? Did “refuse” have a different meaning? But to Cuccinelli “this”—policies excluding people not deemed good enough—“is a central part of our American heritage.” Which it is! A f’cking racist part! Using early 20th-century racism to justify 21st-century racism is not a winning argument, or at least not a moral one.

Here, CNN’s Erin Burnett interrupted Cuccinelli to talk about how her family came to the U.S. “as crofters from Scotland. They had no education, they had nothing. But I am here because they were allowed in, and I’m an anchor on CNN.” Cuccinelli agreed, talking about his Italian grandfather sponsoring cousins to come into the U.S. “This is a tradition that many of our families, yours and mine can point to.”

Yeah, Ken. You know who can’t point to the tradition of needy family members finding welcome and opportunity in the U.S. in the time period of “The New Colossus” and those first public charge laws you’re hanging your new policy on? People descended from all the non-European countries that were sharply restricted or even banned by the immigration laws of the early 20th century. He’s literally harking back to a time when immigration law was deeply and explicitly racialized—racist—and using that to justify immigration policies that exclude the people who most need to immigrate here, saying that the U.S. lifts its lamp beside the golden door only to people who already have some gold of their own to buy their way through the door. This is the Trump administration on immigration, now: Let’s adhere only to the racist and exclusionary parts of U.S. immigration history, and ignore the lessons of our own impoverished and uneducated ancestors who got in because they were European.

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