Give me your skilled, your self-sufficient, your English-speaking masses yearning to grow the American economy.
A White House aide and a CNN reporter argued during a nationally televised news briefing over the meaning of the Emma Lazarus poem at the foot of the Statue of Liberty.
After Senior Policy Adviser Stephen Miller suggested the poem’s open-door sentiment was not the original message behind the statue, CNN’s White House Correspondent, Jim Acosta — the son of Cuban immigrants — countered with a history lesson on the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
“That sounds like some national park revisionism,” Acosta said. “The Statue of Liberty has always been a beacon of hope to the world for people to send their people to this country and they’re not always going to speak English. They’re not always going to be highly-skilled.”
The briefing-room spat followed an announcement by President Trump embracing legislation that would cut legal immigration in the U.S. in half with a merit-based entry.
Trump backed a bill that would judge applicants based on their level of education, job skills and their ability to speak English.
“This competitive application process will favor applicants who can speak English, financially support themselves and their families and demonstrate skills that will contribute to our economy,” Trump said.
Acosta, whose father fled Cuba for the U.S. three weeks before the Cuban Missile Crisis, pressed Miller on what he perceived was a change in what America stands for. He cited the “New Colossus” poem to make his point.
“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,” Acosta asked. “Can’t people learn how to speak English when they get here?”
“The Statue of Liberty is a symbol of liberty lighting the world,” Miller responded. “The poem that you are referring to was actually added later.”
Read the full text of Emma Lazarus’ “The New Colossus”:
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”