NPR host Rachel Martin asked Cuccinelli, "Would you also agree that Emma Lazarus" words etched on the Statue of Liberty, "give me your exhausted, your poor, ' are also part of the American ethos?"
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.
"Give me your exhausted and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge", Cuccinelli said while trying to justify the new rule from the Trump administration that will limit legal immigration.
The last part of the poem by Lazarus on the statue's pedestal reads: "Give me your exhausted, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore".
But the new rules tighten the definition of who is or will become a "public charge" by imposing tighter guidelines.
Cuccinelli also made the claim that Lazarus' words were put on the Statue of Liberty "at nearly the same time" that the USA passed its first "public charge" rule for immigration, which he called "very interesting timing" - though he didn't get the timing exactly right. "Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!'" It was mounted in the lower level of Lady Liberty's pedestal in 1903.More news: 'Games being destroyed': Aussie coach slams 'ridiculous' All Blacks red card
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Cuccinelli, during an interview with NPR, argued it's the "American tradition" that immigrants welcomed into the country be those who are "self-sufficient, can pull themselves up from their bootstraps".
Cuccinelli has defended the changes, writing in a CNN op-ed published Tuesday that "self-sufficiency has been a core tenet of the American dream".
US President Donald Trump has said that he wants to introduce a merit-based immigration system that would favour those who are well-educated or have special skills.
It also does not apply to refugees and asylum applicants. "President Trump has delivered on his promise to the American people to enforce long-standing immigration law by defining the public charge inadmissibility ground that has been on the books for years".
Rumors that the Trump administration was considering the regulation already led to a chilling effect on immigrants looking to put down roots through legal and permanent residency. "The poem that you're referring to was added later, it's not actually part of the original Statue of Liberty".
Give me your exhausted, your poor ... but not too poor.