What Is the Statue of Liberty Poem ‘The New Colossus’ That Started an Argument Between a Trump Adviser and a CNN Reporter?

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Senior Advisor to the President for Policy Stephen Miller talks to reporters about President Donald Trump's support for creating a 'merit-based immigration system' in the James Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House August 2, 2017 in Washington, DC. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The White House press briefing room has been the backdrop to more than its fair share of acrimony under the Trump administration but the most recent scrap between senior aide Stephen Miller and CNN reporter Jim Acosta came from an unlikely source: a sonnet etched on the Statue of Liberty.

In what became an increasingly heated exchange over an immigration bill endorsed by President Donald Trump on Wednesday, Acosta quoted the most famous couplet from Emma Lazarus’s 1883 poem The New Colossus. The 14-line poem was written to raise funds to build the Statue of Liberty and was inscribed on a bronze plaque inside the structure in 1903.

Read More: Trump Aide Stephen Miller Throws Insults at ‘Ignorant’ CNN Reporter Over ‘Cosmopolitan Bias’

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!
 

The new bill being backed by the president seeks to cut legal immigration to the United States by half and would also favor immigrants with advanced education or skills and those who speak English.

Acosta questioned whether the new green card system being proposed was in keeping with U.S. history and and invoked Lazarus’s poem to make his point.

“What you’re proposing, or what the President is 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.

“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?” he asked.

Miller in his rebuttal questioned whether poem was really representative of U.S. values on the basis it had been added to the statue after it was conceived as a symbol of American liberty. “The poem that you’re referring to, that was added later, is not actually a part of the original Statue of Liberty,” he said.

In a later back and forth, Miller referred to the “Statue of Liberty law of the land” asking the CNN journalist in what decade and which number of people entering the country each year he approved of U.S. immigration policy.

According to the National Park’s service, the Statue of Liberty’s official name is Liberty Enlightening the world. Lazarus's famous sonnet depicts the Statue as the "Mother of Exiles:" a symbol of immigration and opportunity - symbols associated with the Statue of Liberty today. One of Lazarus’s friends began a campaign promoting her work after her death in 1887 and in 1903 the words of the poem were inscribed on a plaque and placed on the inner wall of the pedestal of the statue.