WASHINGTON – Acting U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Ken Cuccinelli on Tuesday evening doubled down on his characterization of the famous Emma Lazarus Statue of Liberty sonnet, saying the poem was referring mostly to immigrants coming from Europe.
Cuccinelli early Tuesday made headlines after he gave his own revised version of the famous poem, "The New Colossus," when asked whether it would still be a part of the American ethos once the new rule was implemented.
The question was prompted by the White House's "public charge" rule announced Monday that could disqualify many indigent immigrants from entering the U.S.
Related Video: Dozens of Immigrants Released After ICE Raids
“Give me your tired, your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge,” he said Tuesday morning during an interview with NPR. "That plaque was put on the Statue of Liberty at almost the first time the first public charge law was passed."
The actual text of the poem 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-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
During an interview with CNN's Erin Burnett on Tuesday evening, Cuccinelli maintained that he "wasn't writing poetry" and was "answering a question."
When asked what he thinks America stands for, Cuccinelli said that the poem was referencing immigrants coming from Europe.
"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 said.
"It was written one year, one year, after the first federal public charge rule was written that says 'any person unable to take care of himself without being a public charge' would be inadmissible," he continued.
The Statue of Liberty was a gift from France following the American Civil War and abolition of slavery. It was proposed by Edouard de Laboulaye, who was a French political thinker and abolitionist, who wanted to "commemorate the perseverance of freedom and democracy in the United States and to honor the work of the late president Abraham Lincoln," according to the National Park Service.
Almost 14 million immigrated to the United States through New York between the late 1800s to the 1920s, and saw the Statue of Liberty as a "welcome," the NPS wrote online, adding "Over time, Liberty emerged as the 'Mother of Exiles,' a symbol of hope to generations of immigrants." The immigrants at the time were mostly coming from Europe.
Cuccinelli's comment drew criticism online from pundits and politicians, who said it reinforced what some see as the Trump administration's preference for white immigrants over black and brown immigrants when it comes to legal immigration to the U.S.
President Donald Trump has been criticized for his rhetoric towards Latino immigrants, oftentimes using negative or pejorative language to describe them. But, Trump has repeatedly said he is not a racist.
"This administration finally admitted what we’ve known all along: They think the Statue of Liberty only applies to white people," 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke tweeted.