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Fanning the Flames of Prejudice

John McCain said there was ‘substantial evidence’ linking wildfires in Arizona to illegal immigrants. Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Does it surprise anyone that Arizona Senator John McCain has blamed undocumented immigrants for the wildfires in his state?

Hard economic times drives desperate people to do desperate things. Throw in the subject of immigration and a little bit of xenophobia ? and shazzam! You have the recipe for a political ideology: blame the Mexicans! Send that recipe into Arizona and you have the perfect storm:

? Uneducated and unable to find a [high-paying] job? Blame the Mexicans.

? Social security and Medicare going broke? Yup, it’s the Mexicans.

? Terrorism in the Middle East has you up at night? Blame the Mexicans for your insomnia, send troops and wall the US-Mexico border.

? Crime, drug usage and communicable diseases on the rise? You know the answer.

Blaming Mexicans, or “illegal aliens”, is a tradition here; and in Georgia and Alabama, too ? the whole country, really. Last year, McCain claimed that “illegal aliens” were intentionally causing accidents on freeways.

McCain’s charges read like comedy but here in Arizona, immigration is serious business ? and so is scapegoating. It is [Sheriff Joe] Arpaio country, where racial profiling is American as apple pie. It is this state that gave us SB 1070 ? based in large part on the unproven allegation that Arizona rancher Robert Krentz was killed by “illegal aliens”. Amazingly, another whopper was conjured up one week after SB 1070 was signed ? that a Pinal County sheriff’s deputy had been shot by Mexican drug smugglers (the incident was self-inflicted). And two weeks before SB 1070 was set to go into effect, Governor Jan Brewer began to warn people about finding headless bodies in the Arizona desert. But the fantastical tales don’t end there: in this state, it’s not even that Mexican migrants are falsely blamed for real problems; they are also blamed for invented problems. Dana Milbank from the Washington Post writes about this:

“Border violence on the rise? Phoenix becoming the world’s No 2 kidnapping capital? Illegal immigrants responsible for most police killings? The majority of those crossing the border are drug mules? All wrong.”

Per the FBI, we know that the border region is safer than it was a decade ago, and that many of the safest US cities are along the US-Mexico border. But when it comes to fueling xenophobia in this country, facts never get in the way.

For example, Tucson’s highly successful Mexican American Studies programme is on the verge of being eliminated because our current attorney general, Tom Horne, has long maintained that the classes foment revolution (“Viva Che!”). A recent independent audit found all the charges against the programme to be false.

“Illegal aliens” causing Arizona wildfires? While the US Forest Service has made no such claim, McCain and his ideological supporters would have us accept his speculation as fact. What’s next? Blaming Mexicans for increased sun spot activity?

Roberto Rodriguez, an assistant professor at the University of Arizona.He can be reached at: XColumn@gmail.com

 

 

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