McCain, Kyl link Arizona fire to illegal immigration

Arizona Republicans linked Arizona wildfires and illegal immigrants on Monday.

"Some of these fires are caused by people who are crossing our border illegally, who were either trying to get warm or signal to others, or distract the Border Patrol," Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said on Imus in the Morning.

A joint statement released by Arizona Republican Sens. McCain and Jon Kyl with Arizona Republican Reps. Jeff Flake and Paul Gosar on Monday afternoon backed up McCain. “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," the statement read.

McCain became the target of Latino advocates from Citizens for a Better Arizona and National Institute for Latino Policy this weekend, who pushed back against his similar remarks made this weekend at a press conference in his home state.

"I'm surprised that anyone should be surprised that people have been doing this for some period of time," McCain told host Don Imus.

"I said some fires are caused by the -- according to the Forest Service and other information, including published reports -- that some fires are caused by people crossing the border illegally," McCain said on the show. According to his office, reports date back as far as 2006.

McCain's office sought to make it clear that the senator did not blame immigrants for specific ongoing wildfires, such as the massive Wallow Fire.

"During the press conference on Saturday, Senator McCain was referring to fires on the Arizona/Mexico border, not the Wallow Fire," said Brooke Buchanan, communications director for McCain, in a statement.

"There is substantial evidence that some of these fires have been caused by people who have crossed our border illegally," McCain said on Saturday, as reported by the Arizona Republic.

In the same press conference, Kyl provided specific examples supporting the link between undocumented immigrants and wildfire in Arizona, naming the 2010 Horseshoe fire.

McCain, Kyl and Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee have requested that the Government Accountability Office examine the connection between wildfires caused by illegal immigrants and smugglers occurring on the Arizona/Mexico border over the last five years. The report, requested in July 2010, is due out later this year.

The Forest Service has not yet determined the cause of the Wallow Fire, which has already scorched 500,000 acres of Arizona according to NASA.