Annie Polland had an immediate thought after she heard Ken Cuccinelli’s revision of the famous poem inscribed on the Statue of Liberty: Her sixth-grade students seemed to understand Emma Lazarus’s “The New Colossus” better than the head of the nation’s legal immigration system did.
“Clearly, he did not take part in our curriculum,” said Polland, executive director of the American Jewish Historical Society, which is leading a three-year initiative called the Emma Lazarus Project.
She had recently asked the class to rewrite Lazarus’s poem for a national competition. And while the 11-year-olds welcomed the tired, poor and huddled masses, Cuccinelli – acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services – took a different direction as he offered his own twist to an NPR reporter Tuesday.
“Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge,” he said.
Cuccinelli’s off-the-cuff edit befuddled and concerned immigration historians who saw his comments as a distortion of one of the nation’s most symbolic ideals. Cuccinelli made the quip in the wake of USCIS’s announcement this week that it will expand the “public charge” rule, punishing poor immigrants who use government benefits by making it tougher for them to earn green cards. In interviews with NPR and CNN Tuesday, Cuccinelli called the public charge doctrine a “140-year tradition in this country,” a “central part of our heritage as Americans.”
But to Polland, Cuccinelli’s fixation on what he viewed as the burden of poor immigrants represented the exact opposite of the lasting impression of Lazarus’s words. To her, he was attempting to replace the spirit of the Jewish poet’s compassionate vision for America with a policy directive directly contradicting it.
“It really goes against the whole spirit of the poem,” she said. “To just pull out a law and say that it is symbolic of America is a distortion of a much more complicated reality.”
Lazarus was asked to write the poem in 1883 as part of a fundraiser put on by newspaper magnate Joseph Pulitzer to raise money for the construction of the base of the Statue of Liberty. Lazarus had come from a well-to-do family, as The Washington Post reported in a 2017 story about her life, but she turned to immigrant advocacy after witnessing the mistreatment of thousands of newly arrived Eastern European Jews in the early 1880s. She discovered them living in squalor in overcrowded living facilities that were overflowing with garbage, with little access to clean water, education or job training.
Her experience formed the backdrop of the famous stanzas Lazarus composed: “Give me your tired, your poor/ Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free/ The refuse of your teeming shore/ Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me/ I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Cuccinelli attempted to clarify his comments on Tuesday night in an interview with CNN, insisting that he was not “rewriting poetry.” He said the poem was “referring back to people coming from Europe, where they had class-based …read more
Source:: The Denver Post – World