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Senator McCain Gets Smackdown for Blaming, Without Any Evidence, Arizona Forest Fires on Immigrants

by Mahwish Khan on 06/21/2011 at 9:42am

John McCainFor years now, immigrants have been blamed for things like homegrown terrorism via “terror babies,” global warming, the health care crisis, the demise of Wall Street, and spreading leprosy and bird flu (among other diseases). Arizona Senator John McCain (R), one-time immigration reform champion, is adding another to that list. Now the former GOP Presidential hopeful is blaming undocumented immigrants for starting forest fires. From the Huffington Post:

“There is substantial evidence that some of these fires are caused by people who have crossed our border illegally,” McCain, said at a press conference Saturday after touring the Wallow fire, which began on May 29 and has burned over 500,000 acres to date.

“They have set fires because they signal others, they have set fires to keep warm, and they have set fires in order to divert law enforcement agents and agencies from them,” McCain said. “The answer to that part of the problem is to get a secure border.”

McCain did not provide any evidence to support his claim, however.

Yes – this is the same John McCain who, a few years ago, called a harsh and similar criminalization measure to SB 1070 that was approved in 2005 by the Republican-dominated House of Representatives: “anti-Hispanic.”

Senator John McCain was also that one who launched a TV ad in Spanish blaming Barack Obama for the death of comprehensive immigration reform (which you can watch here). And hypocritically, perhaps because he was bitter from losing the 2008 Presidential election or because he was eager to hold on to his Senate seat in 2010, Senator McCain himself backed away from the immigration bill he once championed. He also voted “no” for the DREAM Act last year in December. Lee Hockstader gives McCain a WWE-style smackdown in today’s Washington Post:

Once upon a time, Sen. John McCain was one of the few nationally known Republicans whose M.O. did not include bashing illegal immigrants for possible electoral gain. Those days are long gone. Spooked by the ugly xenophobia rampant in the GOP’s base, McCain has joined his party’s mainstream in race-baiting, immigrant-hating rhetoric, much of it utterly unsubstantiated. He gave a prime example this weekend, citing “substantial evidence” that some of the wildfires that have ravaged hundreds of thousands of acres in Arizona this month “have been caused by people who have crossed our border illegally.”

The truth is, there is no such “substantial evidence.” And in fact, there is not even a shred of evidence. In trying to defend his statement today, McCain made that very point himself, issuing an explanatory memo that, on close reading, makes it clear that his statement was based on absolutely nothing. Except, of course, his own need to prove his bona fides as an anti-illegal-immigrant firebrand.

Here’s McCain trying to defend his statements on NBC’s Today, via Media Matters:

A spokesman for the US Forest Service says “There is no evidence” for McCain’s claim. But there is significant evidence that John McCain is trying to vilify immigrants as the root of all our problems. Considering that one-third of his states’ population is Hispanic and that the number is only expected to grow, Senator McCain should be careful while he’s playing the immigrant blame-game — he’s going to lose.

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