Senator John McCain is being severely criticized for the statement he made regarding the Wallow Fire – the largest wildfire in Arizona’s history that he alleged was probably started by illegal immigrants.
U.S. Senators John McCain and Jon Kyl, and Congressmen Jeff Flake and Paul Gosar released a statement on June 20 regarding the wildfires:
“During our tour of the damaged areas caused by the Wallow Fire on Saturday, we were briefed by senior Forest Service officials, one of whom informed us that some wildfires in Arizona (across our southern border) are regrettably caused by drug smugglers and illegal immigrants. This statement is consistent with what we’ve been hearing for years, as well as testimony by the Forest Service and media reports dating back as far as 2006.”
James Garcia, Chairman of Arizona Latino Research Enterprise, a non-partisan group doing advocacy work for the Hispanic community, told The Christian Post that Sen. McCain’s comments were unfortunate because there was no evidence supporting these claims and that is what has people upset.
“The general problem at the time was that many of us in the Latino community already feel like there is a target on their [Latino immigrants] backs,” he said. “They have really little power to defend themselves. The other part of the issue is it builds on what is in our view an unfair negative stigma that is attached to undocumented immigrants.”
ABC News reported that a U.S. Forest Service official said there was no evidence supporting Sen. McCain’s claims that illegal immigrants started some of the wildfires in Arizona.
“There’s no evidence that I’m aware, no evidence that’s been public, indicating such a thing,” said Tom Berglund, spokesman for the federal group that managed the Wallow Fire.
According to the Associated Press, Daniel Ortega, a Phoenix attorney who is board chair of the National Council of La Raza, a national advocacy group, said at a press conference calling for McCain to apologize on Aug. 25, “He owes it to us to not spread fear and hate.”
“In regards to asking Mr. McCain to apologize, the Senator and any other public officials should be very conscious because the media listens. People listen when you speak and it can have consequences,” Garcia told CP.
He stated, “If you speak to anyone in Border Patrol or Immigration Services they will tell you that the majority of immigrants usually aren’t ‘drug mules.’ These are just the kind of statements that shouldn’t be made off handedly. It opens immigrants to attack – both physical and unfair, negative stigma.”
Caleb Joshua Malboeuf, 26, and David Wayne Malboeuf, 24, two cousins, were charged with starting the Wallow Fire on May 29, in the Apache Sitgreaves National Forest in eastern Arizona that torched over 800 square miles of wilderness before it was contained.
The blaze ran rampant for over a month, torching three-dozen homes and businesses and displacing up to 10,000 people at its peak, Reuters reported.
The Malboeuf cousins, both from southern Arizona were charged on five counts which included causing timber to burn, leaving a fire unattended and not extinguished, and building a campfire without removing all surrounding flammable material.
The duo is scheduled to make an appearance in federal court in Flagstaff, Arizona on September 19. A conviction for each of the offenses carries a maximum penalty of six months in prison, a $5,000 fine or both, wrote Reuters.
“While Arizonans continue to face the enormous challenges related to these wildfires, it’s unfortunate that some are inserting their political agenda into this tragedy,” stated the release posted to McCain’s official website.
Third Age news reported that McCain's representative said he would not apologize because the forest service told him that some of the fires had indeed been started by illegal immigrants.