White House aide: Statue of liberty poem not the test for immigration policy

Top White House policy aide Stephen Miller on Wednesday defended the White House's new legal immigration legislation in part by saying the famous poem inscribed on the Statue of Liberty was added years after the statue's unveiling. 

The poem includes the lines, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free."

Miller was responding to a CNN reporter quoting lines from the famous poem during a White House press briefing where Miller was discussing the White House's newly proposed immigration proposal that gives preference to English speakers.

CNN's Jim Acosta asked if the new merit-based immigration system introduced by President Trump and two Republican senators on Wednesday breaks with America's historic acceptance of immigrants.

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"I don't want to get off into a whole thing about history here, but the Statue of Liberty is a symbol of liberty lighting the world, it's a symbol of liberty lighting the world. The poem you are referring to, which was added later, is not part of the original Statue of Liberty," Miller said.

Miller then peppered Acosta with historic immigration numbers, asking him what level of immigration would satisfy "Jim Acosta's definition of the Statue of Liberty poem's law of the land."

Poet Emma Lazarus wrote the famous poem,"The New Colossus," to celebrate the statue's 1883 unveiling. Eighteen years later, the poem was inscribed on the statue's pedestal, where it remains as a key fixture of the monument.

Trump announced Wednesday that he and Sens. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant Cotton2020 Democrats raise alarm about China's intellectual property theft Bolton returns to political group after exiting administration Meadows, Cotton introduce bill to prevent district judges from blocking federal policy changes MORE (R-Ark.) and David Perdue (R-Ga.) have agreed on language for a "merit-based immigration system that protects U.S. workers and taxpayers." Among those qualifications that would boost a would-be immigrant: English-language proficiency.

Miller added at the briefing that speaking English is "a requirement to be naturalized."

Proficiency but not fluency in English is a qualification to become a naturalized citizen in the U.S. Immigrants have to take an English test unless they qualify for exceptions.

Older immigrants who have been in America for a certain amount of time (20 years for a 50-year-old and 15 years for a 55-year old) do not have to take the English language test. Those with certain disabilities are also exempt from the English test.

Immigrants can take their civics test in their native language.