The invitation is engraved on a plaque by the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
But a top adviser to President Donald Trump suggested Wednesday that it was a later add-on and should not be taken as a “Statue of Liberty law of the land.”
“I don’t want to get off into a whole thing about history here, but the Statue of Liberty is a symbol of liberty and lighting the world,” said White House adviser Stephen Miller. “It’s a symbol of American liberty lighting the world. The poem that you’re referring to, that was added later, is not actually a part of the original Statue of Liberty.”
Miller’s remarks came in a heated exchange with a CNN reporter during a White House briefing.
Miller was detailing Republican legislation designed to limit legal immigration. Sponsors argue it will protect American workers competing with immigrants for jobs. Among its provisions is a points system for immigrants hoping to become permanent residents, giving an edge to those who can speak English, have good-paying jobs lined up or have valuable job skills.
CNN reporter Jim Acosta suggested the new policy didn’t square with the famed poem long associated with the Statue of Liberty.
“’Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,’” Acosta said. “It doesn’t say anything about speaking English or being able to be a computer programmer.”
Miller pointed out that speaking English is one of the requirements to become a naturalized citizen and went on to argue that the poem was not part of the statue when France originally gave it to the United States.
“That sounds like some National Park revisionism,” Acosta quipped.
The Statue of Liberty was dedicated in 1886. Emma Lazarus wrote the poem “The New Colossus” in 1883 as part of an effort to raise funds for the statue’s pedestal, according to the National Park Service. But it was not inscribed on a plaque and placed on a wall of the statue’s pedestal until 1903.
But Miller and Acosta didn’t engage a dry debate about the statue’s history. Instead, what followed was a contentious exchange with the two often talking over one another, and Miller accusing Acosta of being insulting, foolish and “cosmopolitan.”
“Jim, let’s talk about this,” Miller said. “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?
“In the 1990s, when it was half a million a year, was it violating or not violating the Statue of Liberty law of the land? … Tell me what years meet Jim Acosta’s definition of the Statue of Liberty poem law of the land.”
When Acosta suggested the new policy’s English language preference would favor those from Great Britain or Australia, Miller said he was shocked.
“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 said. “It’s actually — it reveals your cosmopolitan bias to a shocking degree. … 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.”
Acosta pointed out that his father was a Cuban immigrant who learned English after coming to the United States. He argued that the bill appears to be seeking “to engineer the racial and ethnic flow of people into this country.
“Jim, that is one of the most outrageous, insulting, ignorant, and foolish things you’ve ever said, and for you that’s still a really — the notion that you think that this is a racist bill is so wrong and so insulting.”
Miller ended by apologizing “if things got heated.” But before ceding the podium to press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, he added “I think that went exactly as planned. I think that was what Sarah was hoping would happen.”
Acosta later joked about the “cosmopolitan” tag, when discussing it with a CNN anchor.
“Well, I could go for a cosmopolitan right now,” Acosta said. “It’s not often you’re accused of a cosmopolitan bias from somebody who went to Duke University, wearing cuff links in the White House briefing room.”