White House adviser Stephen Miller decided to take one last question at the end of a news conference explaining a new immigration proposal from President Donald Trump, and it touched off a remarkable showdown with CNN reporter Jim Acosta.
Miller was at the podium to explain the administration’s position on the Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment (RAISE) Act, which eventually would cut legal immigration in half as America shifted away from low-skilled migrants to immigrants with high-end work skills, education, and English language ability.
Acosta said the proposal does not “sound like it’s in keeping with American tradition when it comes to immigration” and then proceeded to recite the poem at the base of the Statue of Liberty. It provoked a back and forth that lasted six minutes.
Miller pointed out the original intent of the statue — contrary to popular belief — was a symbol of American liberty enlightening the world, not an invitation to mass immigration. The poem was not part of the original statue.
Acosta repeatedly interrupted Miller as he tried to answer questions.
“In 1970, when we let in 300,000 people a year, was that violating or not violating the Statue of Liberty law of the land?” Miller asked. “In the 1990s, when it was half a million people a year, was it violating or not violating the Statue of Liberty law of the land? Tell me what years Jim Acosta’s definition [is] of the Statue of Liberty poem law of the land.”
“Have you honestly never met an immigrant from another country who speaks English outside of Great Britain and Australia?”
Acosta did not have an answer.
The current annual immigration total is about 1.1 million.
Miller called Acosta’s assertion “shockingly ahistorical” since immigration has ebbed and flowed, with very high levels during certain periods and low levels in other eras.
Acosta shifted from the number of immigrants to the languages they speak, noting that the bill proposed by Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and David Perdue (R-Ga.) would give preference to newcomers who speak English.
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“You’re sort of bringing a press-1-for-English philosophy here to immigration, and that’s never been what the United States has been about?” he said.
Acosta later added, “Are we just gonna bring in people from Great Britain and Australia?”
Miller said the question betrays “cosmopolitan bias” of the CNN reporter.
“I am shocked at your statement, that you think only people from Great Britain and Australia would know English,” he said.
Miller said it is offensive to millions of people from all over the world who speak English.
“Have you honestly never met an immigrant from another country who speaks English outside of Great Britain and Australia?” he asked.
Acosta also raised the specter of the border wall that Trump has proposed to combat illegal immigration and suggested that immigration levels are not high because illegal border crossings have declined. Miller hammered the non sequitur.
“Surely, you don’t think that a wall affects green card policy,” he said. “You couldn’t possibly think that, do you?… Do you really at CNN not know the difference between green card policy and illegal immigration?”
Miller said suggestions that the bill is racist is one of the most “outrageous, insulting, ignorant and foolish things” Acosta has ever said. Miller also noted that the foreign-born U.S. population has quadrupled since 1970 and stands at an all-time high in numerical terms.
“I apologize, Jim, if things got heated, but you did make some pretty rough insinuations,” Miller said.
(photo credit, homepage and article images: Gage Skidmore, Flickr)