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MYTH vs. FACT: There Is An “Amnesty Phone”, It Calls For Open-Ended Funding & Covers 7 Million People

Apr 22, 2013 | Press Releases

MYTH #1: “The ‘Gang of 8’ proposal provides for an open-ended appropriation.” (Mike Flynn, “‘Marcophone’ Program Covers Area Including 200k Sq Miles, 7+ Million People, Open-Ended Funding,” Breitbart, 4/21/13)

FACT: This legislation calls for the authorization of a grant program to provide rural residents and business owners near the Mexican border access to satellite phones so they can quickly report border violence to the police and the Department of Homeland Security. This provision was included in the “Border Security Enforcement Act of 2011”, in response to the case of Robert Krentz, an Arizona rancher who was murdered on his property and did not have the ability to communicate directly with law enforcement because of his rural location. This legislation simply authorizes the program, thus there will be no money spent on this grant program unless and until it is set by the Appropriations Committee, approved by both chambers of Congress and signed into law by the President.

  • Arizona Cattle Growers Association: “In 2010, we as the Arizona Cattle Growers’ Association (ACGA) made a series of recommendations to improve security along the border in response to tragic murder of Arizona rancher Rob Krentz. One of those recommendations was to increase funding for private communications equipment so that citizens living or working in remote and sometimes dangerous areas along the U.S. border where cell phone service is not available could contact law enforcement. The ACGA is pleased to see this recommendation included in the Schumer-McCain immigration bill.” (Statement, Gary Thrasher, Executive Board Member of the Arizona Cattle Growers’ Association, 4/18/13)

MYTH #2: The “MarcoPhone” coverage area includes 7 million people, including San Diego, Tucson and El Paso.

  • Breitbart: “The US border with Mexico is 2,000 miles long. The area 100 miles from this border is 200,000 sq. miles and takes in such metropolitan areas as San Diego, Tucson, El Paso and other major towns. The total population of this area is over 7 million people. All of these meet the first criteria for the new grant program. It is the second criteria that makes limiting funding important. To be eligible, one must have a “lack of cellular service.” It is noteworthy that the provision doesn’t detail “lack of cellular coverage,” just “service.” It doesn’t include any of the other definitions the federal government uses to define areas underserved by telecommunications areas.” (Mike Flynn, “‘Marcophone’ Program Covers Area Including 200k Sq Miles, 7+ Million People, Open-Ended Funding,” Breitbart, 4/21/13)

FACT: Practically no one in San Diego, Tucson, El Paso – or any other major metropolitan area for that matter – lacks access to cellular service.  This measure is specifically designed to help residents in rural areas where cellular service is either erratic or nonexistent. These phones would serve as a lifeline to border residents witnessing border violence by providing them access to 911 emergency services and to have GPS tracking so that the caller could be located.  These phones are not intended for recreational and other leisurely uses.

BACKGROUND: The “MarcoPhone” Myth Already Flopped Before

  • Buzzfeed: “Conservative sites were not the only ones running with a wildly inaccurate rumor about immigration reform bill providing immigrants with free phones Wednesday.” (Andrew Kaczynski, “Republican Senate Office Staffer Forwards False ‘MarcoPhone’ Claim,” Buzzfeed, 4/17/13)
  • Senator Jeff Sessions’ Staffer “Regrets” Peddling False “MarcoPhone” Story, Acknowledges “Story Has Been Corrected”.  “A Senate staffer for Jeff Sessions may have helped spread the rumor as well.  In an email that sent out to Republican policy staffers, and forwarded to BuzzFeed, Sen. Jeff Session’s chief counsel Danielle Cutrona sent out the Shark Tank article on the “Marcophones.” Another email mentioned Marco Rubio’s chief of staff’s previous lobbying for Tracfone. … An aide to Sessions said the emails from Cutrona serve as a sort of newsfeed, not intend on taking a partisan position. ‘Our immigration staffer sends to her personal contacts dozens of articles, blog posts and news stories each day about everything happening in the immigration world. It’s meant to function like a news feed for people she knows. These aren’t press releases, these aren’t endorsements, they are twitter-style updates to her personal contacts on everything being said in the immigration world – pro, con and neutral. That includes, for instances, statements from interest groups criticizing my boss. It’s updates on everything. All that being said, she regrets that this story was included in those email updates and for the confusion it created, and everyone is glad the story has been corrected.’” (Andrew Kaczynski, “Republican Senate Office Staffer Forwards False ‘MarcoPhone’ Claim,” Buzzfeed, 4/17/13)
  • PolitiFact: “Bloggers charge that new immigration legislation includes ‘a taxpayer funded cellular phone’ for new immigrants. … We rate the claim False.” (Angie Drobnic Holan, “Politifact: Immigrants Would Get Free Cell Phones Under New Proposal, Bloggers Claim,” PolitiFact, 4/19/13)
  • Human Events: “There will be much to say about what is found in Senator Marco Rubio’s immigration reform proposal, but one thing it does not contain, contrary to rumors, is a plan to hand out free cell phones to immigrants.” (John Hayward, “No, Marco Rubio’s Reform Plan Does Not Give Free Cell Phones To Immigrants”, Human Events, 4/17/13)
  • National Review Online: “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.” (Andrew Stiles, “No, The Immigration Bill Does Not Give Immigrants Free Phones”, National Review Online, 4/17/13)
  • Conservative Intel’s David Freddoso: “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. … But it’s not true.” (David Freddoso, “Rubio Pushes Back Against False Claim His Bill Gives Immigrants Free Cell Phones”, Conservative Intel, 4/17/13)