A Public Sphere for Poetry, Nature, and Politics
The Trump White House again demonstrated how out of touch their views are of America, as senior adviser Stephen Miller launched into a defense of harsh immigration policies by attacking the iconic Statue of Liberty.
Donald Trump’s White House defended its new anti-immigration policy Wednesday by attacking the iconic Statue of Liberty during the daily press conference, rejecting and denouncing the poem at its base welcoming immigrants to America.
Trump senior adviser Stephen Miller started the briefing to promote the restrictive anti-immigrant legislation proposed by Senate Republicans and promoted by Trump in a joint press appearance earlier in the day.
CNN reporter Jim Acosta asked Miller to reconcile the fact that the policy “does not sound like it’s in keeping with American tradition” of immigration.
ACOSTA: What you’re proposing, or what the president’s proposing, does not sound like it’s in keeping with American tradition when it comes to immigrant. 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 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?
MILLER: Well, first of all, 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 immigration systems would be actually very ahistorical. Secondly, 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 light in the world. It’s a symbol of American liberty lighting the world. The poem that you’re referring to that was added later is not actually part of the original Statue of Liberty.
Standing at a lectern emblazoned with the seal of the United States presidency, Miller continued to refute the meaning of the poem attached to the base of the Statue of Liberty — “The New Colossus,” by Emma Lazarus.
Acosta pushed back, saying, “That sounds like some national park revisionism. 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, Stephen, they’re not always going to be highly skilled.”
Miller then snidely questioned Acosta about “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,” Miller demanded.
He then concluded by attacking Acosta, describing his questions about an English-only immigration policy as “one of the most outrageous, insulting, ignorant, and foolish things you have ever said.”
ACOSTA: This whole notion of, well they have to learn English before they get to the United States — are we just going to bring in people from Great Britain and Australia?
MILLER: Jim, it’s actually — I honestly must say, I am shocked at your statement that you think only people from Great Britain and Australia would know English. It actually reveals your cosmopolitan bias to a shocking degree that in your mind — no, this is an amazing moment, that you think only people from Great Britain and Australia would speak English is so insulting to millions of hardworking immigrants who do speak English, from all over the world. Jim, have you honestly never met an immigrant from another country who speaks English outside of Great Britain and Australia? Is that your personal experience? […] Jim, that is one of the most outrageous, insulting, ignorant, and foolish things you have ever said.
The tirade reflected the Trump administration’s ongoing rejection of traditional American norms and values, and his continued attacks on immigrant communities. Trump launched his campaign maligning Mexicans as rapists, continues to push for an unworkable border wall, and attempted to ban Muslims from traveling to the country.
After the interview, Acosta told his CNN colleagues that Trump’s toxic comments about Latinos reflects a “bias against Latino immigrants” that “has just sort of infected the president and some of his top officials who deal with this issue of immigration throughout that entire time period and I think you saw some of that spill out in the briefing room today.”
His comments and the White House’s position stand in stark contrast to President Barack Obama, who hailed the statue and the poem while discussing the plight of Syrian refugees alongside the president of France in 2015:
On the Statue of Liberty, a gift from the people of France, there are the words we know so well. “Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free.” That’s the spirit that makes us America. That’s the spirit that binds to us France. That’s the spirit that we need today.
The words of Trump’s adviser puts his administration in direct opposition to the Statue of Liberty and what she has represented at the gateway to America for over 131 years.
First published by ShareBlue.
Oliver Willis is a senior writer at ShareBlue.