Trump's Acting USCIS Director Slammed For Suggesting Immigrants Coming to U.S. a 'Public Charge'

The current head of a Homeland Security agency which deals with lawful immigration and naturalization has come under fire for adapting a poem inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty to align with the policies of President Donald Trump.

The comments, made by Acting Director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Ken Cuccinelli, came during an appearance on NPR's Morning Edition. During the interview, Cuccinelli was asked if he believed the portion of Emma Lazarus' The New Colossus, ("give me your tired, your poor") etched onto a plaque at the base of the statue are still part of the American Dream.

"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,'" Cuccinelli replied.

The full stanza written on the plaque reads: "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-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Cuccinelli's remarks came the day after he unveiled substantial changes to the way the Trump administration would deal with legal immigration. It will become less likely that those in the country legally with visas or green cards, or those applying for such legal status, will be allowed to stay or to enter the country if they have used or might qualify to use public benefits, such as food stamps and Medicaid. Lower incomes and education status would also play a factor because the possibility of needing government benefits in the future would increase.

Ken Cuccinelli alter Lady Liberty poem
Acting Director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Ken Cuccinelli attends a naturalization ceremony inside the National September 11 Memorial Museum on July 2 in New York City. Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty

The comments by Cuccinelli, in addition to the administration's new legal immigration policy, has been lambasted by Democrats and others, who say the new rules are a continuation of what seems to be an anti-immigrant agenda.

Despite the belief by many that undocumented immigrants do not pay taxes and do not contribute to social welfare programs, federal agencies have said that's not the case. The Social Security Administration said in 2013 that about 3.1 million unauthorized immigrants and their employers paid an estimated $13 billion in Social Security payroll taxes in 2010, adding that "a relatively small portion of those who potentially could draw benefits do so."

"We estimate that earnings by unauthorized immigrants result in a net positive effect on Social Security financial status generally," the agency stated.

At the White House on Monday, Cuccinelli described the new rule as something that "encourages and ensures self-reliance and self-sufficiency for those seeking to come to or to stay in the United States." He told reporters there were no plans to alter the Statue of Liberty poem.

In Tuesday morning's NPR interview, the Trump official and former attorney general of Virginia justified the restrictions placed on poorer and less educated immigrants as requirements that don't "seem like too much to ask."

"If they don't have future prospects of being legal, permanent residents without welfare, that will be counted against them. That is the point of the rule," Cuccinelli said. "It doesn't seem too much to ask that we have Americans here who aren't likely to go on welfare and become, the historic term, 'public charge.' This is part of President Trump keeping his promises. This is not new or a surprise."

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, struck a tone of opposition reminiscent to many of his Democratic colleagues. He highlighted America's deep history of immigration and said the new immigration policy would only stifle the "new ideas, new labor and new entrepreneurship that immigrants bring."

"Immigrants contribute to our economy by creating jobs and strengthen our communities by giving back," Hoyer said in a statement. "Allowing legal immigrants to make use of the social services and opportunity programs that help Americans get ahead has always been a part of ensuring that immigrants can successfully integrate into our country and benefit our economy in the long run."

Trump's Acting USCIS Director Slammed For Suggesting Immigrants Coming to U.S. a 'Public Charge' | Politics