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Senate sponsor attacked over "MarcoPhones" in immigration bill

Senator Marco Rubio of Florida speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Maryland March 14, 2013. RE
Senator Marco Rubio of Florida speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Maryland March 14, 2013. RE

By Caren Bohan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - In a sign of the tough politics facing Republican supporters of immigration reform, Senator Marco Rubio, a leading sponsor of the Senate immigration bill, came under fire from conservatives on Wednesday over a provision that could provide mobile phones to Americans living near the Mexican border.

Rubio, a Florida Republican seen as a potential contender for the 2016 presidential race, along with three other Republican senators and four Democratic senators hammered out the 844-page immigration bill that would create a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented workers.

Conservative bloggers have seized on a provision that would provide "emergency communications grants" to people who live or work in the Southwest border region to enable them to report illegal crossing and incidents of border violence.

According to the bill, the grants "may be used to purchase satellite telephone communications systems and service" that can provide access to the 911 emergency telephone line.

In a phrase that quickly circulated on the Internet and Twitter, Javier Manjarres of the Shark Tank political blog referred to the equipment envisioned in the bill as "MarcoPhones" and said they would add new costs for the "debt-ridden" United States and cash-strapped taxpayers.

Breitbart News and some other conservative sites also highlighted the phones provision in the immigration bill. Though Rubio has been a favorite of the conservative Tea Party movement, his strong embrace of the immigration bill could cost him support on the right, which is divided over the issue.

Rubio, in an interview with conservative radio host Laura Ingraham, said the phones are aimed at boosting border security.

"Some of those regions don't have cellphone 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," he said.

Rubio's office has set up a Web page devoted to rejecting what it considers false claims about the law. An item posted on Wednesday explained that the provision originated in a 2011 bill proposed by Republicans in response to the murder of an Arizona rancher, Robert Krenz, who was unable to communicate with law enforcement from his isolated location.

(Reporting By Caren Bohan; Editing by Fred Barbash and Mohamad Zargham)

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