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No, the Immigration Bill Does Not Give Immigrants Free Phones


Several conservative sites are suggesting that the Gang of Eight’s comprehensive immigration-reform bill contains a provision under which immigrants will be eligible for taxpayer-funded cell phones that they’ve labelled “Marcophones,” a nod to the infamous “Obamaphone” lady. But the claims appear to be little more than misguided speculation.

Here is the section of the bill in question:



(1) IN GENERAL.—The Secretary, in consultation with the governors of the States in the South- west Border region, shall establish a 2-year grant program, to be administered by the Secretary, to im- prove emergency communications in the Southwest Border region.

(2) ELIGIBILITY FOR GRANTS.—An individual is eligible to receive a grant under this subsection if the individual demonstrates that he or she—

(A) regularly resides or works in the Southwest Border region;
(B) is at greater risk of border violence due to the lack of cellular service at his or her residence or business and his or her proximity to the Southern border. 

(3) USE OF GRANTS.—Grants awarded under this subsection may be used to purchase satellite telephone communications systems and service that—

(A) can provide access to 9–1–1 service; and
(B) are equipped with global positioning systems.

(4) AUTHORIZATION OF APPROPRIATIONS.— There is authorized to be appropriated such sums as may be necessary to carry out the grant program established under this subsection.

It was lifted almost verbatim from the Border Security and Enforcement Act of 2011, legislation introduced by Republican senators John McCain and Jon Kyl of Arizona. That bill did not include any provisions with respect to immigration policy or a legalization process; it was focused solely on border-security measures, such as deploying 6,000 National Guard troops and 5,000 Border Patrol agents along the U.S.-Mexico border and improving law-enforcement communication in the region.

The bill called for a grant program that would provide satellite communications equipment and service to individuals living in remote areas along the southern border, many of whom lack cell-phone coverage, so that they could report illegal activity. The Gang’s bill simply incorporated that provision, which was proposed in response to the 2010 fatal shooting of an Arizona rancher, Robert Krentz, in a remote area with little to no cell-phone reception. It took a search team 13 hours to find Krentz’s body because of the sparse coverage — authorities couldn’t track his location using the GPS from his cell phone.

Appearing on Laura Ingraham’s radio show earlier today, Rubio insisted the provision was “not for the illegal immigrants,” but for “U.S. citizens and residents who live in the border region so that they can have access to calls.”

“What it does is it provides communication equipment to people who are living in the border region so they can report illegal crossings, because many of them either don’t have phone service or don’t have cell-phone service and they have no way of calling,” he said.