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White House Says Statue of Liberty Not About 'Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor'

CNN's White House correspondent gets into a war of words with White House's Stephen Miller over bid to curb legal immigration

CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta attends the daily press briefing, during which he had a contentious exchange with White House senior policy advisor Stephen Miller, at the White House in Washington, U.S. August 2, 2017.
JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS

The White House's Stephen Miller got into a war of words with a CNN reporter about what the Statue of Liberty actually symbolizes after the former presented U.S. President Donald Trump's new plan to curb legal immigration to America.

At the daily White House press briefing, after Miller presented Trump's new Raise Act, which stipulates a merit-based immigration policy, CNN's Jim Acosta asked him how it jives with the values usually attributed to the Statute of Liberty.

Quoting the "The New Colossus" poem etched into the monument's base, Acosta asked if the new policy was congruent with its demand: "Give me your tired, your poor / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free."

"It doesn't say anything about speaking English," Acosta told Miller, asking if "you [are] trying to change what it means to be an immigrant coming into this country if you are telling them they have to speak English?"

Trump's new policy stipulates that English will be a prerequisite for immigrants, as it is for naturalization.

Miller responded saying that the sonnet was not actually part of the original monument: "The Statue of Liberty ... is a symbol of American liberty lighting the world. The poem that you are referring to was added later and is not part of the original Statue of Liberty."

He also pushed Acosta to say how many immigrants would a law based on that poem let in.

The debate got heated after Acosta followed up his question by asking if the demand for knowledge of English was "trying to engineer the racial and ethnic flow of people into this country," insinuating the policy would be biased in the favor of those from English speaking countries.

The comments hit a nerve for Miller, who lashed out at Acosta, the son of Cuban immigrants. "I have to honestly say, I am shocked at your statement that you think that only people from Great Britain and Australia would know English. It reveals your cosmopolitan bias to a shocking degree. ... This is an amazing moment," Miller said.

"That is one of the most outrageous, insulting, ignorant and foolish things you've ever said," Miller later added, though he apologized to Acosta shortly before yielding the podium to Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the acting White House Press secretary.