By Nomaan Merchant, The Associated Press

Long before a Trump administration official suggested the poem inscribed on the Statue of Liberty welcomed only people from Europe, the words captured America’s promise to newcomers at a time when the nation was also seeking to exclude many immigrants from landing on its shores.

Emma Lazarus

A biographer of poet Emma Lazarus on Aug. 14 challenged the comment by Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, explaining that Lazarus’ words were her way of urging Americans “to embrace the poor and destitute of all places and origins.”

Lazarus wrote “The New Colossus” in 1883, one year after Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which banned laborers from China. The poem is best known for its line about welcoming “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

Cuccinelli suggested Aug. 13 in an interview with NPR that the line should be changed to “give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge.”

He spoke a day after the administration announced it would move to deny green cards to many migrants who use Medicaid, food stamps, housing vouchers or other forms of public assistance.

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Statue of Liberty Poem Embraces Migrants From ‘All Places,’ Biographer Says