John McCain Baffled by Controversy Over Illegal Immigrant Comments

Jun 21, 2011 8:33am

Sen. John McCain told me this morning that he’s “not sure what all this controversy is about” surrounding his claim that illegal immigrants caused some of the wildfires raging across eastern Arizona. 

McCain said the issue of possible immigrant involvement was first raised at a press conference over the weekend, and that his response was based on a briefing he received from a Forest Service official.

Cochise Co. “Sheriff Larry Dever will tell you that the Monument Fire was started when the park, the forest was closed. So anyone who was in there is illegal,” McCain told me. 

The Forest Service has only said publicly that the wildfires appear to be “human caused” and have not offered any evidence that the suspects may have been illegal immigrants.  

“This is the toughest year in Arizona’s history as far as fires are concerned,” McCain said. “The fact is that as far back as  2006 the Forest Service testified before Congress, and I quote, ‘Large numbers of warming and cooking fires built and abandoned by cross border violators have caused wildfires that have destroyed valuable natural and cultural resources.’” 

But McCain's critics say his unsubstantiated claims that there's "substantial evidence" that illegal immigrants are responsible for "some of these fires" only agitates an ongoing political debate.   

"The sad thing is that the intention was pretty clear," said Clarissa Martinez with the National Council of La Raza. "It was to demonize immigrants and demonize Latinos." 

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