At the White House press briefing on Wednesday morning, senior policy adviser Stephen Miller dismissed a reference to the famous poem inscribed on a plaque attached to the pedestal of the Statue Of Liberty as it relates to immigration in America today. When questioning Miller about President Trump’s merit-based green card proposal, Jim Acosta of CNN cited the poem, arguing that the “huddled masses” in the sonnet should not be required to speak English or have computer programming skills in order to enter the United States. Acosta further argues that requiring immigrants to speak English is an attempt to alter what it means to be an immigrant coming to America.

Miller's argument and the Statue of Liberty

Miller’s response was that speaking English is a historical part of becoming a naturalized citizen, and thus should be a part of modern immigration policies. He went on to argue that the part of the poem Acosta referenced was not relevant to the discussion because it was not part of the original Statue of Liberty. From a historical standpoint, Miller claimed, the Statue of Liberty is simply representative of American liberty rather than welcoming immigrants.

Background of Lady Liberty's poem

Emma Lazarus wrote the original sonnet, which was based on her own experiences as the descendant of Jewish immigrants, in 1883 as part of an effort to raise enough funds for the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal.

The poem was titled "The New Colossus” and was not added to the statue until 1903.

Trump's immigration proposal

The proposal that sparked the discussion about the Statue of Liberty as a symbol of immigration is centered around decreasing the levels of legal immigration into the United States. The decrease would stem from a policy of skills-based immigration.

If passed, the proposal would make it harder to bring family members into the U.S. and obtain job-based visas. The policy would be implemented using a grading system that would rank possible immigrants based on how useful they would be in the American workforce.

Trump argues that the current immigration system is unfair to both the American people and its workers.

Miller echoed this sentiment, stating that the new proposal would be the largest immigration reform effort in the last fifty years. Miller went on to claim that the proposal would protect Americans and the economy by prioritizing the needs of both.