Ken Cuccinelli Somehow Just As Bad At Poetry As He Is At Immigration Policy
Wikimedia Commons

Oh boy! Today sure is an awkward day to be an Italian person. First there was the whole Chris Cuomo Fredo thing, for one, and then we've got Ken Cuccinelli over here rewriting the poem on the Statue of Liberty in order to exclude those who are so tired and poor that they cannot "stand on their own two feet."

Cuccinelli, the acting director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services, appeared on NPR's Morning Edition on Tuesday to discuss the Trump administration's new policy of denying green cards and visas for those deemed too poor, too sick, or too old, or who have previously used public assistance programs like Medicaid or SNAP. Not only is this gross and classist and kind of an undermining of the entire American immigration experience, it also means that these people will be required to pay taxes to fund social programs that they are not allowed to benefit from due to their status as immigrants.

During the interview, host Rachel Martin asked Cuccinelli if he would "also agree that Emma Lazarus's words etched on the Statue of Liberty, 'Give me your tired, give me your poor,' are also a part of the American ethos?"

His response?

"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. That plaque was put on the Statue of Liberty at almost the same time as the first public charge was passed -- very interesting timing."

I would say that Cuccinelli should probably give up any dreams he might have of being a world famous poet and keep his day job, but under the circumstances, I fully encourage him to go this route. We are all far better off with "Starving Artist Ken Cuccinelli" than with "Acting Director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services Ken Cuccinelli."

"Terrible Poet Ken Cuccinelli" is also preferable to "History Teacher Ken Cuccinelli" — because while the poem was written in 1883 for the explicit purpose of raising money to buy the base of the Statue of Liberty, the plaque itself was not put up until 10 years later (and no, it did not include anythinbg about feet or charges, but we're really hoping you knew that). The year the first immigration-related public charge law was passed was 1882. That would be the same year that the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed. Not really a year anyone ought to be bragging about, immigration-policy-wise!

Following this impromptu poetry slam, Cuccinelli explained that he was fine with the kind of immigrants who can pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, a thing it is physically impossible to do.

"All immigrants who can stand on their own two feet, self-sufficient, pull themselves up by their bootstraps," would be welcome, he added.

Asked if that changes the definition of the American Dream, Cuccinelli said, "No one has a right to become an American who isn't born here as an American."

Then he clarified. "It is a privilege to become an American, not a right for anybody who is not already an American citizen, that's what I was referring to."

Now, I don't know too much about Ken Cuccinelli's relatives, but I know enough about immigration patterns to know that being half-Irish and half-Italian, as he is, means that there is an almost 100% chance that his relatives veered a lot more on the "tired and poor" side of things. They weren't coming over here simply to delight in the new world, they were coming over here because they were poor and desperate. Ireland had its own varied and sundry problems over the years and southern Italy was economically devastated after unification. Like many immigrants now, they made that journey because they saw it as their only option for survival.

Laws like this were specifically designed to keep people like his relatives out, and pretty much no one at the time was shy about saying so.

The New York Times, 1887

When that law did not work well enough to keep us out, the United States Government passed the Immigration Act of 1924, which enacted ethnicity quotas specifically designed to keep out Italians, Jewish people, Slavs, Poles and other ethnic groups deemed "less desirable." People who are not sociopaths generally consider this to be a pretty embarrassing point in American history.

If this is how Ken Cuccinelli feels about the "tired and poor," if he thinks that those who come over here without a cent to their name, or those who need a little bit of help at first, can't become awesome Americans, he's the one who doesn't deserve to be here. If he can't pay it forward, he should apologize for his "tired and poor" relatives coming over here and go right back to Italy or Ireland. Though they probably don't want his tired ass either.


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Robyn Pennacchia

Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse


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