On Tuesday, White House senior policy advisor Stephen Miller took part in the daily press briefing to discuss green card policy and the Administration’s support of the bill from Senators David Perdue and Tom Cotton that would cut legal immigration levels. He was at times combative with the press, but especially with CNN’s Jim Acosta and the two sparred over policy.
The policy proposal would benefit high skill workers and those who can speak English, something Acosta addressed in his question. “What you’re proposing, or what the President is proposing here does not sound like it’s in keeping with American tradition when it comes to immigration. The Statue of Liberty says, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” It doesn’t say anything about speaking English or being able to be a computer programmer,” he started.
“Aren’t you trying to change what it means to be an immigrant coming into this country if you’re telling them you have to speak English? Can’t people learn how to speak English when they get here?”
Miller started off by discussing the history of immigration policy and the Statue of Liberty, pointing out how the poem inscribed was added later. The famous poem was written after poet Emma Lazarus was commissioned to write one as part of the fundraising drive for the Statue of Liberty and was then added to the statue in 1903.
The two continued to spar over the Statue of Liberty before Miller asked what level of immigration would be fine with Acosta, confusing the issues of immigration levels and what immigrants to prioritize and accept. Acosta then followed up with the English angle and said, “But this whole notion of “well, they have to learn English before they get to the United States,” are we just going to bring in people from Great Britain and Australia?”
Miller then put aside the larger, figurative issue that Acosta was asking about (that this policy would primarily benefit people from English-speaking countries) and zeroed in on the literal meaning that only people from Great Britain and Australia could speak English, “Jim, it’s actually — 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.” Miller even called it an example of Acosta’s “cosmopolitan bias,” a charge Acosta denied. Miller doubled down, “No, this is an amazing moment. This an amazing moment. That you think only people from Great Britain or Australia would speak English is so insulting to millions of hardworking immigrants who do speak English from all over the world.”
Throughout Acosta’s questioning, Miller largely side-stepped actually answering the questions and instead turned the attack on Acosta. At a few points, he accused Acosta of advocating a position and having his own policy instead of just asking questions.
As Miller closed, he apologized for the heat of the debate, “I apologize, Jim, if things got heated. But you did make some pretty rough insinuations.” Acosta had earlier asked Miller if he was “trying to engineer the racial and ethnic flow of people into this country through this policy,” a charge Miller called “outrageous, insulting, ignorant, and foolish” and “racist.” Acosta then again disagreed with the assessment of “rough insinuations,” saying, ” I don’t know what you mean by rough insinuations.”
“I think that went exactly as planned,” Miller said, preparing to leave.