On August 13 2019, a number of news outlets ran headlines such as “Trump official revises Statue of Liberty poem to defend migrant rule change” and “Cuccinelli edits Statue of Liberty poem to defend new rule,” leading some readers to infer that acting United States Citizenship and Immigration Services director Ken Cuccinelli had changed or was about to edit the actual poem displayed at the base of the Statue of Liberty.
The BBC added to the confusion when it reported:
A top US immigration official has revised a quote inscribed on the Statue of Liberty in defence of a new policy that denies food aid to legal migrants.
The head of Citizenship and Immigration Services tweaked the passage: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”.
The official added the words “who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge”.
It comes as Trump officials debuted a regulation that denies aid to migrants.
Ken Cuccinelli, the Trump administration’s acting head of Citizenship and Immigration Services, announced on Monday a new “public charge” requirement that limits legal migrants from seeking certain public benefits such as public housing or food aid, or are considered likely to do so in the future.
A CNN video was captioned:
In an interview with NPR, the acting director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services Ken Cuccinelli revised the iconic poem on the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal to suggest that only immigrants who can “stand on their own two feet” are welcome in the United States.
CNN published a companion article, adding:
“Would you also agree that Emma Lazarus’s words etched on the Statue of Liberty, ‘Give me your tired, give me your poor,’ are also a part of the American ethos?” NPR’s Rachel Martin asked Cuccinelli on “Morning Edition” in an interview published [August 13 2019].
“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 replied. “That plaque was put on the Statue of Liberty at almost the same time as the first public charge was passed — very interesting timing.”
Twitter users shared articles about Cuccinelli’s remarks:
Things Americans asked for:
-literally anything but this
-nothing to do with editing the Statue of Liberty plaque https://t.co/xfUQ7rxreC
— Rylee Thayer (@ry_thayer) August 13, 2019
Of course a Trump official suggested changing the Statue of Liberty plaque. Isn't that the next step in their Supremacy playbook?
— Theresa (@TSearcaigh) August 13, 2019
It’s easy. One-off, anecdotal cases like this give people like you ammo to cover for him. Meanwhile, the actind director of immigration jokes about changing the words on the Statue of Liberty plaque. Reclaim your soul, Tisha. There’s still time.
— Blake Wilcox (@pantherman007) August 13, 2019
However, a Politico article published that same date quoted Cuccinelli as saying the commentary was not literal and he has no intent to change the plaque itself (at least, not at present):
Cuccinelli was pressed on its relevance [August 12 2019] while addressing the “public charge” policy during a White House news briefing.
“Is that sentiment ― ‘Give us your tired, your poor’ ― still operative in the United States, or should those words come down?” CBS News Radio correspondent Steven Portnoy asked him.
“I’m certainly not prepared to take anything down off the Statue of Liberty,” Cuccinelli replied.
The headlines attached to stories about “editing the Statue of Liberty” or altering its plaque were somewhat misleading. Cuccinelli did object to some of the wording on the plaque (and he added his own sentiments), but the literal plaque itself will remain unchanged.