Monday 26 August 2019

Liberty's welcome 'for migrants who stand on their own two feet'

New York welcome: The Statue of Liberty
New York welcome: The Statue of Liberty

Zeke Miller

A top Trump administration official has said that the famous inscription on the Statue of Liberty welcoming immigrants into the country is about "people coming from Europe" and that America is looking to receive migrants "who can stand on their own two feet".

The comments from Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services, came a day after the Trump administration announced it would seek to deny green cards to migrants who seek Medicaid, food stamps, housing vouchers or other forms of public assistance.

The move, and Mr Cuccinelli's defence, has prompted an outcry from Democrats and immigration advocates who said the policy would favour wealthier immigrants and disadvantage those from poorer countries in Latin America and Africa.

"This administration finally admitted what we've known all along: they think the Statue of Liberty only applies to white people," tweeted former Texas representative Beto O'Rourke, a Democratic presidential candidate.

The administration's proposed policy shift comes as President Donald Trump is leaning more heavily into the restrictive immigration policies that have energised his core supporters and were central to his 2016 victory.

He has also spoken disparagingly about immigration from majority black and Hispanic countries, including calling Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals when he launched his 2016 campaign.

Last year, he privately branded Central American and African nations as "s**thole" countries and he suggested the US take in more immigrants from European countries like predominantly white Norway.

Mr Cuccinelli said that the Emma Lazarus poem emblazoned on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty referred to "people coming from Europe where they had class-based societies where people were considered wretched if they weren't in the right class".

Lazarus's poem, written in 1883 to raise money to construct the Statue of Liberty's pedestal and cast in bronze beneath the monument in 1903, served as a beacon to millions of immigrants who crossed past as they first entered the US in New York Harbour. It reads: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. The wretched refuse of your teeming shore."

Mr Cuccinelli was asked whether the words "give me your tired, your poor" were part of the American ethos.

He said: "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."

A hard-line conservative from Virginia, Mr Cuccinelli was a failed Republican candidate for governor in 2013 after serving as the state's attorney general. He backed Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas for president in 2016 and for a time was a harsh critic of Mr Trump.

He is one of a slew of immigration hardliners brought in by Mr Trump to implement the president's policies. He was appointed to the post in June in a temporary capacity, which doesn't require Senate confirmation.

Mr Trump appeared to support Mr Cuccinelli's comments when asked to comment on them on Tuesday.

"I don't think it's fair to have the American taxpayer paying for people to come into the United States," Mr Trump told reporters before boarding Air Force One for Pennsylvania. "I think we're doing it right."

Immigrant rights groups strongly criticised the Trump administration's new rules for immigrants receiving public assistance, warning that the changes would scare immigrants away from asking for help.

They also voiced concern that officials were being given too much authority to decide whether someone was likely to need public assistance.

Another Democratic presidential candidate, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, said: "Our values are etched in stone on the Statue of Liberty. They will not be replaced and I will fight for those values and for our immigrant communities."

Irish Independent

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