White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller and CNN reporter Jim Acosta got into a heated exchange over President Donald Trump’s new immigration policy.
On Wednesday, Trump backed a bill that would slash legal immigration levels in half over a decade, reducing the number of annual legal permanent residents from 1 million to 500,000, weighing an applicant’s English-speaking ability, education, and work skills.
During a press briefing on Wednesday, Acosta asked Miller whether the Trump administration’s new immigration policy was “trying to change what it means to be an immigrant” by requiring immigrants to know English, citing the “New Colossus” inscription on the Statue of Liberty.
When Miller noted that the poem on the Statue of Liberty was added after the statue was installed, Acosta called Miller’s attempt to parse the difference between the statue and the engraving “national park revisionism.”
“Tell me what years Jim Acosta’s definition of the Statue of Liberty poem is the law of the land?” Miller said, referring to immigration quotas. “So you’re saying one million is the Statue of Liberty number? Nine hundred thousand violates it, 800,000 violates it?”
Acosta replied, “I’m saying you’re bringing a ‘press one for English’ philosophy here, and that’s never been what the United States has been about.”
The two continued to spar over the provision that mandates immigrants know English.
Acosta pointed out that his father was a Cuban immigrant, and that many immigrants like his father may learn English later on in life. He asked whether the administration was essentially limiting immigration to English-speaking countries like the United Kingdom and Australia.
“I am shocked at your statement that you think only people from Great Britain and Australia would know English,” Miller said. “It reveals your cosmopolitan bias to a shocking degree.”
“Didn’t you grow up in Los Angeles?” Acosta replied, remarking moments later that it “sounds like you’re trying to engineer the racial and ethnic flow of people into this country through this policy.”
Miller shot back, “Jim, that is one of the most outrageous, insulting, ignorant, and foolish things you’ve ever said.”
Trump’s support for the immigration bill garnered applause from many of his supporters, who backed his hardline immigration stance during the 2016 campaign, while earning criticism from immigration activists who argued the bill would do nothing to solve the visa backlog or improve the US economy.
Miller, a longtime immigration hawk, has largely avoided the spotlight since giving testy responses during interviews in which he made wild, unproven claims about large-scale voter fraud and condemned lower courts that blocked Trump’s travel ban.
For his part, Acosta has frequently clashed with administration officials at the podium over press access, immigration, and his network’s coverage of the administration.