Rubio pushes back against false claim his bill gives immigrants free cell phones

Written by . Posted in 2016 Campaigns, Featured, Florida Elections, Issue Watch

Published on April 17, 2013

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., went on Laura Ingraham’s show today to discuss his 844-page immigration bill, only to be hit by questions about “Marco phones.”

The Florida blog Shark Tank, run by Javier Manjarres, ran first with this odd story, which illustrates the problem of non-lawyers attempting to read and interpret legislation without the help of experts:

According to the newly filed bill, immigrants who are allowed to enter the United States under a work visa, will be ‘granted’ a taxpayer funded cellular phone. Move over “Obama phone,” we present the new ‘Hola, Como Estas?!’ MarcoPhone.

Manjarres was referring to Section 1107, which contains this passage:

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;  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 picked up the story as well.

But it’s not true.

The provision in question, Rubio explained later in the day in an interview with Laura Ingraham, is designed so that ranchers and farmers along rural areas of the border (say, in Arizona) can report illegal crossings and violence, which are a big problem there. Many of the areas are very remote and lack cell phone coverage. A rancher in his pickup who noticed, say, 50 heavily armed cartel goons running across his land would probably have no way to phone it in to authorities. Hence the grants for purchasing satellite phones — which are not cheap.

Based on a quick search of the legislative database, Sens. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) appear to have first proposed the language in May 2010, when Rubio was still just a primary candidate for U.S. Senate. Their bill, S. 3332 (“Border Security Enforcement Act of 2010″), contained no immigration provisions at all — just border security measures, including the phones, grants to towns along the border and deployment of 3,000 additional National Guardsmen at the border.

In order to please immigration hawks, the old border security bill was folded into the comprehensive immigration bill this year, so that senators could show they were doing something to crack down on illegal border crossings.

Rubio explained what the provision was about in the interview with Ingraham, which he also posted on his website:

Ingraham: “[I]n 844 pages, as you can imagine, there’s quite a lot of interesting nuggets in here. You actually can be eligible for a grant for a phone, it looks like. A two year grant program to receive a cellular phone. And articles this morning, as you can imagine, are fairly amusing. ‘Move over Obama phone, this is the amnesty phone.’ What’s going on with that?”

Rubio: “That’s false. That’s not for the illegal immigrants. That’s for U.S. citizens and residents who live in the border region so that they can have access to calls. One of their complaints – that’s actually part of the Kyl border bill that we adopted. And 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.”

Ingraham: “I know it’s not for the illegal immigrants, but it’s an outlay of money, is it not?”

Rubio: “Well again, that’s part of a border security package. That all of which is paid for by the fees and fines we are charging as part of this program. That is actually a border security measure that we have adopted and it’s involved to help rural citizens who live along the border that have access to communication equipment so they can call police and they can report border violence. Because one of the complaints we got from the border region is they don’t have any way to communicate with police or border patrol in time if they see something happening on the border. So this is designed to help in that regard. It’s not some effort to provide phone service to anybody.”

Ingraham: “That’s okay, that’s not really something that bothers me. I’m not even sure why that’s even in here, but I guess I get your point.”

Rubio: “Well the reason why that’s there is because the people on the border tell us…”

Ingraham: “They don’t have cell phones?”

Rubio: “Some of those regions don’t have cell phone coverage. They’re mountainous regions; they’re remote regions in rural areas of the border. Some of the most desolate places in the country, that’s why people cross illegally there.”

Ingraham: “Right and I understand that. It just seems to be those people who are the de facto who are enforcing the border, with the cell phones, to me its seems like it’s difficult.”