In a very heated debate Wednesday, President Donald Trump's top aide Stephen Miller berated and insulted CNN's Jim Acosta for insinuating his immigration policies were racially biased in favor of whites. The exchange occurred during the daily press briefing after Miller announced new proposed immigration guidelines.
"What you're proposing here or what the president is proposing here does not sound like it's in keeping with American tradition when it comes to immigration," Acosta challenged. "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.
"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?" he asked.
"Well, first of all," Miller explained, "right now it's a requirement that to be naturalized you have to speak English, so the notion that speaking English wouldn't be a part of our immigration systems would actually be very ahistorical.
"Secondly I don't want to get off into a whole thing about history here," he continued, "but the Statute of Liberty is a symbol of liberty and lightening the world. It's a symbol of American liberty lightening the world. The poem that you're referring to that was added later, is not actually part of the original Statue of Liberty."
"That sounds like some National Park revisionism," Acosta retorted after arguing with him. "The Statue of Liberty has always been a beacon of hope for the world for people to send their people to this country and they're not always gonna speak English, Stephen, they're not always gonna be highly skilled ..."
"Jim, Jim," Miller interrupted, "I appreciate your speech, so let's talk about this. In 1970, when we let in 300,000 people a year, was that violating or not violating the State of Liberty law of the land? In the 1990s, when it was half a million a year, was it violating or not violating the State of Liberty law of the land? When it was 700,000 a year — no, tell me what years, tell me what years, meet Jim Acosta's definition of the Statue of Liberty poem law of the land."
"So you're saying a million a year is the Statue of Liberty number," Miller exclaimed, "900,000 violates it, 800,000 violates it?"
"Surely, Jim you don't actually think that a wall affects green card policy?" Miller mocked Acosta in a later exchange. "You couldn't possibly believe that, do you? Actually, the notion that you actually think that immigration is at a historic low, the foreign-born population of the United States today... Do you really, Jim, I wanna be serious, do you really at CNN not know the difference between green card policy and illegal immigration?"
"Sir, my father was a Cuban immigrant, he came to this country in 1962, right before the Cuban Missile Crisis, and obtained a green card, yes," Acosta retorted.
"They may learn English as a second language later on in life," Acosta explained, "but this whole notion that they have to learn English before they get to the United States — are we just gonna bring people in from Great Britain and Australia?"
"Jim, actually, I have to honestly say," Miller mocked, "I am shocked at your statement that you think only people from Great Britain and Australia would know English. It actually, it reveals your cosmopolitan bias to a shocking degree that in your mind, no, this is an amazing moment, this is an amazing moment. That you think only people from Great Britain or Australia would speak English is so insulting to millions of hard-working immigrants from all over the world."
Acosta countered that it appeared the bill intended 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," Miller said over grumbling of protests from other journalists in the room.
"The notion that you think that is a racist bill is so wrong, and so insulting, Jim," he added, "the reality is that the foreign-born population into our country has quadrupled since 1970. That's a fact, it's been mostly driven by green card policy. Now this bill allows for immediate nuclear family members to come into the country, much as they would today."
Acosta later said on CNN about the altercation, “Well, you can be Cuban and cosmopolitan.”