It was the first time since February that Miller has been on national TV to discuss major policy. What happened was a lesson in why temperament is an important factor in who handles press conferences. (See select video linked above)
Calling the immigration proposals “compassionate,” and a “positive, optimistic” effort to protect American jobs, Miller laid out the principles of their plan: green card applicants would be evaluated on a points system factoring in their education, skill level, their need in American industries, their income level and whether they had an assured place of work when they arrived. After about 10 minutes of taking (and avoiding direct) questions, he began to wrap up.
Taking one last question, Miller called on CNN’s Jim Acosta, who challenged the premise of the administration’s requirement that immigrants be of a certain income and skills level, and speak English. Miller clearly didn’t like the question, as within seconds he began pointing his finger at Acosta and started yelling – yes, yelling – rapid fire questions he wouldn’t allow answers to, and called Acosta “foolish,” “ahistoric,” “cosmopolitan,” and “ignorant.”
Acosta’s opening question was, “what you’re proposing here sounds like it’s not 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 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 to speak English when they get here?”
Miller responded, “Well, first of all, right now it’s a requirement to be naturalized that you speak English. So the notion that speaking English wouldn’t be a part of the immigration systems would be 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 lighting the world. It’s a symbol of American liberty lighting the world. The poem you’re referring to was added later, is not actually a part of the original statue of liberty. But originally — ”
Acosta: “you’re saying that doesn’t represent what the country has always thought of as immigration coming into this country? I’m sorry, but 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. They’re not always gonna be…”
Miller: “Jim, I appreciate your speech, so let’s talk about this. In 1970 when we let in 300,000 people a year, was that violating or not violating the statue of liberty law of the land? In the 1990’s when it was half a million of year, was it violating or not violating the statue of liberty law of the land?
Acosta attempted to answer, “…was it…”
Miller interjected, “no, no, tell me what year, tell me what year, tell me what years meet Jim Acosta’s definition of the statue of liberty home law of the land. So, you’re saying a million a year is the statue of liberty number. 900,000 violates it? 800,000 violates it?”
He also twice accused Acosta of saying something he didn’t say. “I am shocked at your statement that only people people from Great Britain and Australia would know English,” Miller said. “This is an amazing moment that you think only people from Great Britain and Australia would speak English is so insulting to millions of hard working immigrants…” It was an odd attempt to twist Acosta’s words, and make him the xenophobic one.
While not allowing Acosta to answer, Miller apparently stopped himself in the middle of a larger insult, pointing his finger at Acosta, raising his voice and loudly belting, “I just want to say that is one of the most outrageous, insulting, ignorant and foolish things you’ve ever said. And for you, that’s still a really –.”
His insults drew an audible shock from the audience.
Miller stopped, and regrouped.
When Miller suggested Acosta and CNN didn’t know if the difference between green card policy and illegal immigration, Acosta mentioned that his father came in 1962 before the Cuban missile crisis, obtaining a green card before he could fully learn English.
April Ryan, of American Urban Radio Networks jumped in, asking for clarification of Miller’s spray of policy statements and expressions of “shock” at the questions he was getting. Her question was regarding Miller’s apparent contradiction of the purpose of the immigration proposals, and whether they were targeted for African-American job growth. Miller appeared to say it was on her follow up.
In the end, Acosta felt the policy change amounted to a “press 1 for English philosophy on immigration.” Miller felt it “ascribed nefarious motives to a compassion immigration measure.”
Immigration is a complicated topic because it’s far more than just illegal vs. illegal immigration, and legitimate concerns exist over how many immigrants come, and how well they’re assimilated into our country. National security in a dangerous world is another factor in the discussion that further divides otherwise like-minded groups.
Regardless of how someone feels about the issue, discussions should be had with civility, and today’s press briefing was not. And Miller’s pivoting between citizenship and green card requirements didn’t help clarify the issue. It just seemed he wanted to win an argument.
Debates over immigration policy used to be debated at places like the Heritage Foundation, Hillsdale College and the Brookings Institution. I would rather disagree with someone on what they say than yell over each other like an episode of Crossfire.
In my opinion, Stephen Miller should be kept in the White House nerdery, far away from a TV camera or reporter. Sadly, he’s come to represent the face of the Republican Party on immigration, and that’s not the future we need to succeed, win more elections and implement more liberty-minded policy.