Ken Cuccinelli's Statue of Liberty remarks prove that the American Dream is only open to white people

In the eyes of Republicans in power like Cuccinelli, a person’s humanity rests on their ability to 'stand on their own two feet'. It is a shocking, but not unsurprising, admission from an administration known for its cruel and dehumanising policies

Itoro Bassey
In Oakland, California
Thursday 15 August 2019 12:01 BST
Trump administration announces new immigration rules to deny people visas for being poor

The Trump administration has spent little time hiding what it thinks of people of colour in the US and across the world. Remember when the president reportedly referred to the homelands of those coming from Africa and Latin America as “shithole countries”? Or when he kicked off his campaign by describing Mexicans as rapists and criminals?

Trump's hatred of people of colour can be also be seen in his legislative agenda. This week, the administration’s new immigration controls – which aim to stop poorer immigrants from legally entering the US – have come under scrutiny.

When questioned on these new controls, top Trump administration official Ken Cuccinelli attempted to re-word the iconic Emma Lazarus poem that is famously written on the statue of Liberty. It reads: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”

During a CNN interview, Cuccinelli insisted that the inscription on the Statue of Liberty was for “people coming from Europe where they had class-based societies where people were considered wretched if they weren’t in the right class.”

When asked if “give me your poor” was still a part of the American ethos, and whether Trump’s new immigration measures are consistent with this ethos, Cuccinelli responded: "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."

In reality, these policies should surprise no one, nor should the beliefs underpinning them. Just look at the legislation that his administration has championed so far: bills which favour tax deductions for the rich, rollbacks on women’s reproductive rights, the separation of families at the border and “the wall” itself.

Then there is the racist rhetoric, which has become ever more hateful and unhinged in recent weeks. This type of vitriol, from the holder of the highest office in the land, is undoubtedly proof that something is deeply wrong in our society. Yet, since the 2016 election, the calls of “don’t call me racist” or “you’re taking things too personally” from Trump and his supporters have grown louder, downplaying the potentially deadly consequences of this state-sanctioned hate.

Seemingly not content with deaths at the US border, the Trump administration is attempting to make it easier to deny green cards from legal migrants requesting Medicaid, food stamps, housing vouchers, or any public assistance. It is a known fact that the people in need of these services are disproportionately people of colour.

In the age where Trump ascended to power because of his gift for “telling it like it is” and “keeping it real”, it’s been surprisingly hard for anyone from the administration to admit that their policies favour wealthy, white, heterosexual men, while disproportionately hurting black and brown people.

In the eyes of those in power like Cuccinelli, a person’s humanity rests on their ability to “stand on their own two feet”. It is a shocking, but not unsurprising, admission from an administration known for its cruel and dehumanising policies. When the working classes and poorer immigrants are disproportionately people of colour, this sinister thought process gives Republicans a license to treat people who aren’t white as sub-human.

In a moment such as this, we need more truth tellers who are prepared to face reality. A reality in which a politics of fear and divisiveness has come to the surface. A reality where we reconstruct a new American Dream that can’t be so easily weaponised against people of colour by those who have reneged on their oaths to protect and serve us all as equals.

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