A senior White House official has clashed with reporters of CNN and The New York Times – whom US President Donald Trump has often accused of being fake media houses – on the issue of merit and point-based legal immigration system. At one point, the president’s Senior Adviser Jason Miller accused CNN’s senior White House correspondent Jason Acosta of having “cosmopolitan bias” when he questioned the relevance of supporting only those who know English as part of the new legal immigration plan endorsed by Trump. Minutes earlier, Miller, who has normally kept a low profile in the first six months of the White House, entered into a heated exchange with The New York Times reporter Glenn Thrush when he asked if there is statistical evidence to back up the claims that cutting down the Green Card numbers would help American workers.
“I’m not asking for common sense. I’m asking for specific statistical data,” Thrush interrupted Miller when he was responding to the question. “I think it’s very clear, Glenn that you’re not asking for common sense,” Miller said. “Common sense is fungible, statistics are not,” Thrush said as the two entered into heated exchange if words. “I asked you for a statistic. Can you tell me how many — how many,” the Times reporter asked. “May be we’ll make a carve-out in the bill that says the New York Times can hire all the low-skilled, less-paid workers they want from other countries and see how you feel then about low-wage substitution. This is a reality that’s happening in our country…,” Miller said.
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Towards the end of his 30-minute news conference, Miller gave the last question to Acosta of the CNN, who was seated in the first row of the White House briefing room. “What you’re proposing, or what the president’s proposing here does not sound like it’s in keeping with American tradition when it comes to immigration. 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 able to be a computer programmer,” Acosta said firing off his first question. “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,” he asked.
Miller responded in the same tone.
“First of all, right now it’s a requirement that to be naturalised, 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 enlightening the world. It’s a symbol of American liberty enlightening the world. The poem that you’re referring to was added later. It’s not actually part of the original Statue of Liberty,” Miller said, which kicked off another round of heated exchange. “Your statement’s also shockingly ahistorical in another respect, too, which is if you look at the history of immigration, it’s actually ebbed and flowed. We’ve had periods of very large waves, followed by periods of less immigration, and more immigration,” Miller said.
Acosta said his father is a Cuban immigrant. “He came to this country in 1962, right before the Cuban Missile Crisis and obtained a green card. Yes, people who immigrate to this country… not through Ellis Island, as your family may have… other ways, do obtain a green card at some point. They do it through a lot of hard work and yes, they may learn English as a second language later on in life,” Acosta said as he was interrupted by Miller several times in between. “But this whole notion of, ‘Well, they could learn — you know, 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?” Acosta asked. Miller appeared agitated at this point.
“I honestly say I am shocked at your statement that you think that only people from Great Britain and Australia would know English. It reveals your cosmopolitan bias to a shocking degree, that in your mind… This is an amazing moment, that you think only people from Great Britain or Australia would speak English. It’s so insulting to millions of hard-working immigrants who do speak English from all over the world,” the presidential adviser said. “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?” Miller asked.
“Of course, there are people who come…,” Acosta responded, as he was cut mid way. The CNN correspondent accused Miller of trying to engineer the racial flow of people into the country through this policy. “That is one of the most outrageous, insulting, ignorant and foolish things you’ve ever said. And for you, that’s still a really — the notion that you think that this is a racist bill is so wrong,” Miller said. Acosta, meanwhile, clarified that he did not say that it was a racist bill.
Miller said the Trump administration wants to have an immigration system that takes care of the people who are coming here and the people who are already living here, by having standards, by having a real clear requirement that they are able to support yourself financially, by making sure that employers can pay the living wage. As he ended, he apologised.
“I apologise, Jim, if things got heated, but you did make some pretty rough insinuations,” Miller added. The clash was widely reported in the US media yesterday. “That was exciting,” said White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders who was a mute spectator to the exchange.