The fallout from Sen. John McCain’s (R-AZ) patently false statement that undocumented immigrants were responsible for the destructive wildfires in Arizona continued this week, as his fellow Arizona senator Jon Kyl (R) and Maricopa Sheriff Joe Arpaio entered the fray. “Sheriff Joe,” as he’s called, may be the most notoriously ruthless law enforcement official in the country. He’s known for cramming detained immigrants into inhumane outdoor “tent cities” he proudly likens to concentration camps, and for parading prisoners around in pink underwear, in addition to his numerous legal violations.
Arpaio, who never misses an opportunity to scapegoat or harass immigrants, eagerly released a statement this week in response to McCain’s baseless charge. Arpaio announced he had instructed his deputies to question all detained undocumented immigrants about their connection to the wildfires, even though he admitted it’s “a long shot” that these interrogations will yield any information:
Deputies arrested 20 immigrants as they made their way through Maricopa County Wednesday morning.
All were reportedly from Mexico and said they were headed to locations in Texas, Tennessee, and New York state.
They all entered the border near where the fires are burning in southeast Arizona, according to the news release.
“It’s a long shot I know,” Arpaio said. “But since we already gather information from them about their U.S. entry points and travelling routes and methods, this is simply one more area of intelligence to explore that may help us to determine the origins of these fires.“
After McCain said at a press conference that there was “substantial evidence that some of these fires are caused by people who have crossed our border illegally,” U.S. Forest Service Officials rushed to dispute his charge. Spokesman Tom Berglund told ABC News “there’s no evidence” indicating immigrants had any role in the fire.
Arpaio, who promotes himself as “America’s Toughest Sheriff,” is being investigated by the FBI, Justice Department, and a Federal Grand Jury for civil rights violations and abuse of power. His persecution of immigrants who apparently entered the country after the fires started is further evidence of his willingness to seize any excuse to subject migrants to degrading treatment for his own PR purposes.
Meanwhile, Sen. Kyl has repeatedly come to McCain’s defense this week, and continues to stand by their debunked claim that undocumented immigrants are to blame for the Arizona wildfires. He reiterated that position today on Hugh Hewitt’s conservative radio show. When asked what he thought of McCain’s comments, Kyl said, “Well, he was correct. I was right there.”
He went on to broaden the circle of guilt-by-suspicion to “drug smugglers,” saying “a lot of these fires are said to be, or we have substantial evidence, they’re caused by drug smugglers and illegal immigrants.” Like McCain, Kyl cited the Border Patrol and the Forest Service as the basis for his claim, even though the Forest Service has directly disputed it.