Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) was roundly criticized for comments he made Tuesday on NPR suggesting that the Statue of Liberty’s poem was only meant to welcome immigrants “who can stand on their own two feet.”

Dear Ms. Lazarus,

Thank you for your submission of “The New Colossus” for dedication on the statue to be placed on New York’s Liberty Island. As you are aware, we receive hundreds of submissions every day for things like statue poems, state mottos, sports game songs, and pledges/oaths for grade school children to memorize, and we are always grateful for the enthusiasm. Without contributors like you, the United States government would have a difficult time devising vague platitudes for our citizens to fumble through when trying to brag about their patriotism, and we truly appreciate your efforts.

Unfortunately, as it is, we are unable to accept “The New Colossus” for the Liberty Island statue. While it has a few good lines and interesting ideas, ultimately our editors felt it was a little too broad and welcoming to accurately capture the character’s voice. However, with a few revisions, we feel this piece can be saved. See below:

  1. “Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame” — We feel this descriptor is outdated, as most Americans do not know there was a “Colossus” in ancient Greece. In fact, when our editor read this line, he made some interns go to the library to look up the reference, and he was unimpressed with what they found. May we suggest something more universal? Say, just a big tall building, or maybe that tower thing in Paris?
  2. “A mighty woman with a torch” — While we fully anticipate the statue to be a physically large woman, we do not feel the character would be described as “mighty.” She’s essentially wearing a bathrobe, holding a book and a nightlight. This is more akin to a woman making her way to bed than some kind of a power ranger.
  3. “And her name, Mother of Exiles” — Where did you get this name from? The current working title of the statue is “Water Hello Person.”
  4. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” — We love the idea of bringing in masses, whether “huddled” or otherwise gathered together in a group. However, our editors feel the line could be expanded to include well-rested, financially stable, and alone-standing folks who would like to breathe free, but aren’t going to push it. After all, we don’t want this statue to become some kind of symbol that America is a land of opportunity where even the lowest of humanity can come to live free.
  5. “The wretched refuse of your teeming shore” — Again, we feel the poem should dial it back on the gross people. Our editors suggest adding “who can stand on their own two feet, and aren’t a public charge. You know, not the bad immigrants.” The character should be welcoming and inspiring, but also judging and a little bitchy at the same time. Think of a person who rides a light-colored horse and wears a powdered wig to the grocer. That person thinks he’s better than everybody. But also, he kindof is. That’s America.
  6. “I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” — We very much like the idea that the door is golden. Our editors would like the poem to emphasize how big and golden the door is, and that when people pass through a great big door made out of gold they take should a moment to straighten their tie and comb their hair a little, or they are welcome to mosey on back to the ancient lands they pomped from in the first place.
  7. Is there room to add something about eagles?

Incorporating the above edits, we feel “The New Colossus” would successfully capture the voice we want for the Liberty Island statue—friendly/discerning, or hospitable/suspicious. However, in its current version, the poem is a little too focused on welcoming downtrodden, unfortunate immigrants who are seeking asylum or the opportunity for a better life, when we are really just going for the sleeper hits. Thank you for the read.


Ken Cuccinelli – Director, US Citizenship and Immigration Services