One of the main complaints some conservatives have against immigration reform is that a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants would create millions of moochers living off federal benefits. And what is the No. 1 symbol of American moocherdom? The Obamaphone. And so on Wednesday Shark Tank's Javier Manjarres unearthed its immigration counterpart: The MarcoPhone. Named for Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Manjarres thought he spotted a provision in the 855-page immigration bill that gives free cell phones to undocumented immigrants. Breitbart News reposted the story. Talk radio host Laura Ingraham picked it up. MofoPolitics.com led with the image at right. The only problem was that the MarcoPhone is even less real than the Obamaphone. The immigration bill gives cell phones to ranchers so they can report illegal immigrants and violence on the border. It was inspired by a rancher who was killed by illegal immigrants. Breitbart's Matthew Boyle posted a clarification.
Despite Obama never proposing free cell phones for anyone, the notion of Obamaphones has been latched onto by conservative media as a shorthand for government dependency. The meme broke out after the Drudge Report posted a video of a black woman in Cleveland yelling about getting an Obamaphone in the last weeks of the presidential campaign. In fact, President Obama didn't create the "Obamaphone" -- Ronald Reagan created a program for poor people to get phone service, and George W. Bush expanded it after Hurricane Katrina. Those facts swayed some conservatives, but not all, as The Washington Post's Karen Tumulty noted last week. House Speaker John A. Boehner tweeted in February, "Nobody should be talking about tax hikes when govt is spending taxpayer dollars on free cell phones." In a response to Obama's State of the Union address, Sen. Rand Paul said," For those who are struggling, we want to you to have something infinitely more valuable than a free phone." Arkansas Rep. Tim Griffin and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann are working on legislation to eliminate the program. "Should the federal government be giving people cellphones?" Griffin said. "What about iPads? Where do we draw the line on this stuff?" (Currently the line is drawn at a crappy flip phone with very few minutes of free service.)
One of the arguments that conservatives who oppose immigration reform have made is that giving undocumented immigrants legal status will create a new class of moochers. But so far, those warnings have been vague. In November, The National Review's Jillian Kay Melchior wrote an article titled, "Immigrant Welfare: The New Colossus." Subtitle: "Are the huddled masses yearning to breathe free or eat free?" During his 2012 reelection campaign, Iowa Rep. Steve King compared immigrants to dogs, saying one should "pick the one that’s the friskiest, the one that’s engaged the most, and not the one that’s over there sleeping in the corner." Republicans on the Senate budget committee issued a press release in April saying the immigration bill might contain "a major flaw that could allow millions of illegal immigrants to access federal welfare benefits and poverty programs." In an April letter to the "gang of eight" proposing immigration reform, Sens. Jeff Sessions, Chuck Grassley, and Pat Roberts demanded to know the true cost of the bill when immigrants qualify for "approximately 80 different means-tested welfare and low-income assistance programs."
Some think immigrants are already coming here to be moochers. "You're not supposed to be admitted to America if you're likely to be a charge on the public -- if you're going to need government aid to take care of yourself," Alabama's Sessions said in January. Sessions complained that in 2011, the State Department denied "only 0.0033 percent of net applications for admission to the United States" because they might not be able to support themselves. But Bloomberg's Shikha Dalmia explained that that was because "the system is set up to prevent people who are likely to become wards of the state from applying in the first place." And people aren't coming here just to get on the dole: The 10 states with the fastest-growing populations of immigrants spent much less on public benefits than the 10 states with the slowest-growing immigrant populations, Dalmia noted.
All those warnings sound so vague compared to the perfect single symbol of the MarcoPhone. Here at last was the knock-out blow to Rubio's amnesty. You can imagine Laura Ingraham's disappointment when she asked Rubio about it Wednesday, and he replied, "That's false." The phones are for people living in border areas who might not have cell phones. It's inspired by the 2010 death of Robert Krentz, a 58-year-old rancher from a well-known Arizona family, who was shot to death. Footprints at the scene traced to the Mexican border. His last words were reportedly "illegal and hurt."
Alas, he would still be a moocher, according to MofoPolitics:
I know what you’re thinking: “But the free cellphones aren’t for illegal immigrants! They’re for U.S. citizens!”
Uh, you realize the Obamaphone lady is a U.S. citizen right?
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.