The Right Wing

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

Marco Rubio forced to address right-wing lies.

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’sJavier 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.

Steven Hsieh is an editorial assistant at AlterNet and writer based in Brooklyn. Follow him on Twitter @stevenjhsieh.