Conservative Media Return to Racially-Charged ‘Free Cell Phone’ Meme to Fight Immigration Reform

After U.S. senators filed their long-awaited immigration bill yesterday morning, some conservative news sites falsely claimed the bipartisan legislation provides free cell phones to immigrant workers.


The Shark Tank’s Javier Manjarres first reported that “immigrants who are allowed to enter the United States under a work visa, will be ‘granted’ a taxpayer funded celluar phone.” Manjarres dubbed the mythical handout the “‘Hola, Como Estas?!’ MarcoPhone,” birthing the second right-wing, “free cell phone” meme since 2012. The first instance occurred during election season, when conservatives claimed Obama created cell phone grants for welfare recipients, when in fact, George W. Bush oversaw the program’s launch. You may remember this horribly racist ad, created by the Tea Party Victory fund.

This time around, Breitbart News quickly picked up on the MarcoPhone meme, evoking the racially coded language of “goodies” and “handouts.” Michelle Malkin endorsed the Shark Tank’s racist headline on Twitter:

In reality, the provision in question provides phones to ranchers and residents along the border so they can report suspicious border activity to the Department of Homeland Security. It’s all part of the GOP’s border securitization focus for immigration reform.

Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fl.), the de facto conservative messenger for the “Gang of Eight,” directly addressed the attacks in a statement. Relaying the Republican border security line, he said, “Giving people living and working on the Mexican border the ability to communicate directly with law enforcement is important to securing our border.”

This swift reaction from the Right underscores the centrist approach taken on immigration reform. As the Associated Press’s Erica Werner wrote, “The Senate's new bipartisan immigration bill drew criticism from the right and from the left Tuesday – convincing members of the bipartisan "Gang of Eight" that wrote it that they're on the right track.” Progressives say the bill leaves too many obstacles to citizenship and that requiring certain border security “triggers” will only further delay the process.

Understand the importance of honest news ?

So do we.

The past year has been the most arduous of our lives. The Covid-19 pandemic continues to be catastrophic not only to our health - mental and physical - but also to the stability of millions of people. For all of us independent news organizations, it’s no exception.

We’ve covered everything thrown at us this past year and will continue to do so with your support. We’ve always understood the importance of calling out corruption, regardless of political affiliation.

We need your support in this difficult time. Every reader contribution, no matter the amount, makes a difference in allowing our newsroom to bring you the stories that matter, at a time when being informed is more important than ever. Invest with us.

Make a one-time contribution to Alternet All Access, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you.

Click to donate by check.

DonateDonate by credit card
Donate by Paypal

Don't Sit on the Sidelines of History. Join Alternet All Access and Go Ad-Free. Support Honest Journalism.