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Kenneth Cuccinelli Betrays his Italian Ancestors

Acting USCIS Director Kenneth Cuccinelli, an American of Italian ancestry, recently attempted to revise Emma Lazurus’ poem The New Colussus, which is affixed to the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal. His egregious nativist remarks filled me not only with outrage, but with an anger amplified by the cruel historical irony of his statements. One hundred years ago in November 1919, U. S. Attorney General Alexander Mitchell Palmer, aided by his newly appointed head of the Bureau of Investigations, the 24-year-old J. Edgar Hoover, launched what became known as the Palmer Raids—violent, nativist government-roundups of mostly Italian immigrants. As the raids continued, Italian immigrants were subjected to harsh and unrelenting persecutions. In the face of glaring civil rights abuses against predominantly Italian immigrants, the ACLU, which has played such a vital role in defending today’s victimized Hispanic immigrants, was founded to defend a previous generation’s Italian immigrants against governmental abuses. In April of that same year, 1919, as the Palmer Raids persisted and expanded across communities in the United States, two Italian American immigrants, Bartolomeo Vanzetti and Nicola Sacco, Anarchists both, were accused of murdering two employees of a Braintree, Massachusetts shoe factory. Their case, filled with egregious anti-Italian sentiments, legal errors, and political bias, became a worldwide cause cèlébre, lasting seven years and ending in their execution. I was a researcher for the 1971 eponymous film, whose title song, The Ballad of Sacco and Vanzetti, written by Joan Baez, includes in the opening lyrics the last stanzas of The New Colossus. In Kenneth Cuccinelli’s unauthorized version, meant to sanitize and distort Lazarus’ meaning, he added to the original lyrics, of ‘Give me your tired and your poor… the mediocre bureaucratise stanza who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge”

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