In a news conference Saturday, Senator John McCain blamed the fires that have devastated Arizona, burning through over 700,000 acres so far, on illegal immigrants, CNN reports. When asked how he could explain such record fires and how he would fix them, McCain said he was "concerned about the border." He said that illegal immigrants "set fires because they want to signal other, they set fires to keep warm, and to divert law enforcement and agencies."
The senator said that "there is substantial evidence that some of these fires have been caused by people who have crossed our border illegally." He did not, however, offer any details of this "substantial" evidence. But he did use this claim as a platform to propose this solution to the fires: "The answer to that part of the problem is to get a secure border," he said.
Latino groups responded with indignation, although not surprise, considering the immigration tensions in Arizona. Latino rights activist Randy Parraz called McCain's remarks "careless and reckless" and said McCain "should know better" than to make such an accusation without presenting any facts. "It's easier to fan the flames of intolerance, especially in Arizona," he said. Apart from the fires, immigrants in Arizona are also targeted for the state's severe unemployment, foreclosure, and other economic issues, which makes McCain's comments that much more incendiary: "People are looking for someone to blame," he added.
The Tucson Citizen dryly observed that "in Arizona, the excuse for most things is 'blame the Mexicans.' ...I’m not exactly sure how having a huge forest fire will help you smuggle drugs or humans through it. First of all it is really really hot now, and second of all fires tend to bring a lot of attention, lots of cops and fire and investigators."
Angelo Falcon, the president of the National Institute for Latino Policy, criticized McCain for what he called "increasingly blatant" political opportunism. "The degree of irresponsible political pandering by Sen. McCain has no limits," Falcon said in an email to CNN. "With the lack of evidence, he might as well also blame aliens from outer space for the fires."