The Arizona Republic, Wildfires, and John McCain

By Jerry Kammer and Jerry Kammer on August 26, 2011

Probably the most unpleasant part of my job here at CIS is that some people – often well-intentioned, if not well-informed – think ill of us for pointing out the costs of illegal immigration. Many of them believe that immigration, legal or not, should be accepted as an unmixed blessing and supported without question. Some of them respond with disdain to our concerns about illegal immigration's fiscal, labor market, and social effects. They act as if only a racist or a small-minded crank would dare to raise such issues. In their eyes, illegal immigration – and illegal immigrants – must never be subjected to scrutiny or criticism.

That is why it was refreshing to read today's Arizona Republic editorial about the controversy in Arizona over claims that some of the wildfires that have ravaged the state have been caused by illegal immigrants.

The editorial begins this way:

In a way, it is helpful that Democratic state Sen. Steve Gallardo and other Hispanic leaders have raised, once again, the entirely mythical belief that Arizona Sen. John McCain had no factual evidence for raising concerns about illegal immigrants causing wildfires near the Mexican border.

While the editorial does not detail the claims of the other Hispanic leaders, it is worth noting that Clarissa Martinez of the National Council of La Raza charged that McCain had raised the issue because he wanted "to demonize immigrants and to demonize Latinos."

Today's Republic editorial is an admirable effort to clear the air. It continues: "It is helpful to set the record straight. The senator was justified in observing that fact because, simply, it is a fact."

The editorial goes on to express appreciation for "concerns that illegal immigrants get bashed far too often in Arizona." But then it notes some of the evidence that supports McCain's claim. For example, it quotes the recent statement by Jim Pena, the Associate Deputy Chief of the U.S. Forest Service, that investigators had "determined that undocumented aliens were responsible for starting five" Arizona fires in recent years.

The editorial takes up another politically charged aspect of the controversy: the apparent distortion of the situation by federal officials who have said there is no credible evidence of illegal immigrant involvement in the Arizona fires. The editorial does not make a point that has been made by others, including Arizona journalist Leo W. Banks, that such involvement would undermine the Obama administration's insistence that the border is more secure than ever.

States the editorial: "It does appear that federal officials themselves have contributed to the myth that there is no nexus between illegal border-crossers and wildfires."

It concludes: "The persistent effort to tar McCain as playing into the hands of race-baiters goes to great lengths to avoid what really happened, what really was said. Talk about time to stop fanning flames. This is it."

Topics: UnidosUS, Arizona