The Trump administration touted a more limited, merit-based immigration system yesterday, but faced backlash from a CNN reporter who began reading the poem from the Statue of Liberty during the White House press briefing and later denounced parts of the plan as “a dog whistle.”

President Trump joined Republican U.S. Sens. David Perdue of Georgia and Tom Cotton of Arkansas to push what he called “the most significant reform to our immigration system in half a century.”

The proposal would favor those who can speak English and financially support themselves and offer skills that would contribute to the economy.

“This legislation demonstrates our compassion for struggling American families who deserve an immigration system that puts their needs first and puts America first,” Trump said.

At the White House press briefing, senior Trump adviser Stephen Miller claimed “roughly half” of immigrant-headed households receive some type of welfare. He added that the proposed changes would also stop “unfettered chain migration,” whereby a green cardholder can bring in an “elderly relative” who “can immediately go on public assistance” and can in turn also bring in a relative themselves.

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Miller also claimed a merit-based system would protect U.S. workers and fulfill a campaign pledge Trump made on the trail.

But CNN’s White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, who has been dismissed before by Trump as “fake news,” appeared to blur the line between objective journalist and full-on activist by blasting the policy in an uncomfortable exchange with Miller.

“What the president is proposing here does not sound like it’s in keeping with American tradition when it comes to immigration,” Acosta told Miller.

“The Statue of Liberty says, ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,’ ” Acosta said. “It doesn’t say anything about speaking English or being able to be a computer programmer.”

He was referring to the “The New Colossus,” written by poet Emma Lazarus, which, while frequently quoted to illustrate America’s openness, does not actually govern U.S. immigration policy.

“They’re not always going to speak English, Stephen,” Acosta went on. “They’re not always going to be highly skilled. They’re not always going to be somebody who can go to work at Silicon Valley right away.”

“Jim, I appreciate your speech,” Miller responded.

In what resembled a self-manufactured controversy, CNN repeatedly replayed the exchange between Miller and its own Acosta with a banner below the screen blaring, “New plan to slash legal immigration sparks fierce debate.” The cable channel then brought in a panel of experts to react to the back-and-forth.

The drama seemed to bolster critics who have argued that televising the White House press briefings has only led to more grandstanding reporters hoping to make themselves the news and build their own star power.

The Acosta-Miller exchange sent the rest of the media into a tizzy.

“Trump aide#Stephen Miller lecturing Cuban-American Jim Acosta of CNN on green card policy which his family lived 1st hand#Rude,” tweeted Andrea Mitchell of NBC News.

“MILLER TRASHES ICONIC STATUE OF LIBERTY POEM,” screamed the lead headline of the Huffington Post.

Meanwhile, Trump also signed a Russian sanctions bill yesterday, even as he claimed it is “seriously flawed.” The bill had overwhelmingly been passed by Congress, which would have easily been able to override a Trump veto.

Herald wire services contributed to the report.


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