Statue of Liberty poem at heart of heated exchange between Trump aide Stephen Miller and CNN reporter

A poem at the Statue of Liberty that is a national symbol for the country’s embrace of immigrants was at the centre of a heated exchange at a White House news conference to promote President Donald Trump’s push for immigration reform.

Senior White House aide Stephen Miller clashed on Wednesday with CNN reporter Jim Acosta, who asked if the Trump administration’s new merit-based green card proposal was keeping with US tradition.

The reporter read a line of “The New Colossus,” the sonnet by Emma Lazarus sonnet, that is etched into the base of the statue: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses.”

Trump advisor Stephen Miller and CNN’s Jim Acosta just got in an argument about the poem on the Statue of Liberty

— BuzzFeed News (@BuzzFeedNews) August 2, 2017

“The poem you were referring to was added later,” Mr Miller said. “It’s not actually part of the originally Statue of Liberty.”

Mr Miller said the statue was a “symbol of American liberty lighting the world” and suggested it had little to do with immigrants.

American poet Emma Lazarus Credit: AP

The legislation unveiled earlier Wednesday by the presidentwould dramatically overhaul the US immigration system. It would reduce legal immigration to the US and evaluate visa applications based on merit.

During a heated exchange, Mr Miller called Acosta’s suggestion that the bill would regulate the racial and ethnic makeup of immigrants “outrageous, ignorant, insulting and foolish.”

“The notion that you think this is a racist bill is so wrong and so insulting,” Mr Miller said. Acosta, who was the target of Mr Trump’s ire when he blasted CNN as “fake news” at a press conference in January, didn’t call the legislation racist.

The New Colossus poem

Trying to place Mr Trump’s latest plan in a broader context, Acosta raised Mr Trump’s promise to build a wall along the border with Mexico. “You want to bring about a sweeping change to the immigration system,” he said.

Mr Miller accused him of conflating separate topics.

“Surely, Jim, you don’t actually think that a wall affects green-card policy,” Mr Miller said. “You couldn’t possibly believe that, do you? … Do you really at CNN not know the difference between green-card policy and illegal immigration? I mean, you really don’t know that?”

People look at the Statue of Liberty from a ferry boat in Jersey City Credit: AP

Referring to the president’s plan to award points to green-card…

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