Civil-Rights Activist: ‘Irresponsible’ for McCain to Blame Immigrants for Wildfires

Jun 21, 2011 3:21pm

ABC News' Sherisse Pham (@sherisse) reports: Senator John McCain came under fire recently for stoking Arizona’s heated immigration debate by blaming undocumented immigrants for the state’s recent wildfires.

Activist Randy Parraz criticized McCain’s comments on ABC’s “Top Line” today, saying there was little proof of the senator’s claim.

“He could have said that Boy Scouts of America started this fire,” Parraz said. “When you claim that there's substantial evidence you need to be able to produce that and he did not do that.” Parraz, a Democrat, said Arizona’s climate is politically charged and sensitive, and McCain’s comments served to “fan the flames of fear and intolerance.”

McCain made his comments at a press conference on Saturday.

"There is substantial evidence that some of these fires have been caused by people who have crossed our border illegally," McCain, R-Arizona, said in an interview aired on Phoenix’ KTVK. The senator further suggested that immigrants are setting fires to “signal others,” “keep warm”, or to “divert law enforcement.”

The Arizona senator defended his comments on ABC’s Good Morning America today.

“Congressman Flake and I were briefed right just before that press conference by the forest service official that this same situation exits, so frankly, I’m not so sure what all this controversy is about,” said McCain.

Parraz maintains that the senator made a “serious overstatement,” and capitalized on the state’s tragedy for political gains.

“John McCain had a national stage and he chose to play politics,” said Parraz. “Not only did he say that there was substantial evidence that documented folks he then made a request for more money for border security. So now the fires are about border security.”

The Arizona activist also said McCain has gone through a political makeover over the last two years, edging further and further right in his policies and agendas.

“He used to be someone very practical, someone who can speak to democrats and republicans and independents,” said Parraz. “At one point he was really interested in solving the problem of immigration, and now he's really trying to blame everything on immigrants.”

Parraz is a labor activist and has been leading the effort to oust Arizona senate president Russell Pearce. Pearce sponsored Arizona’s immigration law and is known for his staunchly conservative policies.

On speculation that Arizona congressman Gabrielle Giffords may run for senate, Parraz said democrat sin the state are just excited for her recovery.

“There are a couple of democrats who've already expressed interest in [a run by Giffords] and maybe being a competitive primary at this point,” said Parraz. “I don't think a lot of us are sitting back and waiting for that we're just happy that she's alive and she’s maybe able to serve out her term as a congressman.”

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