Photo: Evan Vucci (AP)

Ken Cuccinelli, President Donald Trump’s acting director of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services agency, appeared for a brief interview with NPR on Tuesday where he defended the administration’s new plan to deny immigrants green cards if the government determines they could—at any point in the future—become “public charges” by accepting services like Medicaid or food stamps.

Cuccinelli, a former Virginia Secretary of State and failed gubernatorial candidate who once compared U.S. immigration policy to rodent extermination, did his level best to frame this latest crackdown on legal immigration as simply a continuation of America’s history of only accepting immigrants who meet certain qualifications to become citizens.

“This is part of president Trump keeping his promises,” Cuccinelli explained at one point. “This is not new or a surprise.”

When pressed to explain how this new policy comports with Emma Lazarus’ iconic call to “give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free” in her poem “The New Colossus” inscribed on the Statue of Liberty, Cuccinelli offered a dystopian update.

Advertisement

“Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet, and who will not be a public charge,” he countered. “That plaque was put on the Statue of Liberty at almost the same time as the first public charge law was passed. Very interesting time.”

Cuccinelli’s poetic xenophobia comes almost exactly two years after top administration white supremacist Stephen Miller also denigrated Lazarus’ poem during a contentious press briefing.