The Story Behind the Poem on the Statue of Liberty

The Story Behind the Poem on the Statue of Liberty (Links to an external site.)

Emma Lazaruss sonnet is an awkward vehicle for defenses of American greatnessperhaps because so many of those who quote it miss its true meaning.

Read “The New Colossus” in Immigration Poems Assignment

The words of Emma Lazaruss famous 1883 sonnet The New Colossus have seemed more visible since Donald Trumps election. They can be found on the news and on posters, in tweets and in the streets. Lines 10 and 11 of the poem are quoted with the most frequencyGive me your tired, your poor,/ Your huddled masses yearning to breathe freeand often by those aiming to highlight a contrast between Lazaruss humanitarian vision of the nation and the presidents racist rhetoric.

“Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge,” Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said Tuesday, twisting Emma Lazarus’ famous words on a bronze plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty.

Cuccinelli was speaking to NPR’s Morning Edition about a new regulation he announced Monday (Links to an external site.) that targets legal immigration. The rule denies green cards and visas to immigrants if they use or are deemed likely to need federal, state and local government benefits including food stamps, housing vouchers and Medicaid. The change stands to impact hundreds of thousands of immigrants who come to the United States legally every year.

The final version of the “public charge” rule was published last spring in the Federal Register. A public charge refers to a person who relies on public assistance for help.

On Tuesday, Cuccinelli described the public charge as a “burden on the government.” He told NPR the new regulation was a prospective rule, “part of President Trump keeping his promises.”