Madeleine Albright: Trump official's tweak of Statue of Liberty poem is 'completely un-American'

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on Wednesday condemned a top Trump administration official for the recent comments he made about the poem etched on the Statue of Liberty while defending a new rule targeting immigrants that may depend on public services.

Albright, invoking her own experience as a refugee arriving in the U.S., said on CNN that the remark from Ken Cuccinelli, the acting head of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, was one of the most un-American things she's ever heard. 

Her comments came just a day after Cuccinelli cited part of Emma Lazarus's famous poem while defending a new "public charge" rule that could force immigrants to decide between accepting public services or accepting a green card.

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"Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge," Cuccinelli said on NPR's "Morning Edition" when asked if Lazarus's poem, "The New Colossus," was part of the American ethos. 

Lazurus's original poem reads, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

"I can tell you, I’ve been a refugee twice," Albright said. "Once from the Nazis and we were in England. And then we came to the United States when communists took over in Czechoslovakia. I think that it is one of the most un-American things that I’ve ever heard and I will always remember seeing the Statue of Liberty as we sailed by."

Albright later argued that the U.S. was "forgetting that great history of our country."

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The Trump administration on Monday rolled out a new policy that expands the government's ability to reject green cards, visas and entry into the U.S. for individuals using public services.

The "public charge" rule will tie a person's immigration status to their income and use of programs including Medicaid, food stamps and housing subsidies.

A coalition of 13 states, led by led by Washington Attorney General Robert Ferguson (D), have already filed a lawsuit against the policy.  

Asked on Monday whether the words on the Statue of Liberty should come down because of the rule, Cuccinelli said that he "certainly" wasn't prepared "to take anything down."

He gained further scrutiny Tuesday night after saying that the Statue of Liberty poem referred to “people coming from Europe.”

“Well of course that poem referred back to people coming from Europe where they had class-based societies,” Cuccinelli said of the inscription on the statue during an appearance on CNN. “Where people were considered wretched if they weren't in the right class."

"And it was introduced — it was written one year — one year after the first federal public charge rule was written that says — and I'll quote it, 'Any person unable to take care of himself without becoming a public charge,’ would be inadmissible or in the terms that my agency deals with, they can't do what's called adjusting status, getting a green card becoming legal permanent residence."

Albright, who served as secretary of State between 1997 and 2001, immigrated to the U.S. from the country formerly known as Czechoslovakia in 1948.