Republican Rep. Don Young refers to Latinos using racial slur

March 28, 2013

Update 4:07 p.m. Friday: Young has issued an apology.

Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), in an interview with a local radio station released Thursday, referred to Latinos working on a ranch by using the derogatory term "wetbacks."

"My father had a ranch. We used to hire 50 or 60 wetbacks and -- to pick tomatoes," Young said in the interview with KRBD. "You know, it takes two people to pick the same tomatoes now. It's all done by machine."

The term "wetback" is a slur often used to refer to illegal Mexican immigrants. Merriam-Webster defines it as "a Mexican who enters the United States illegally," "from the practice of wading or swimming the Rio Grande where it forms the U.S.-Mexico border."

In a statement released late Thursday, Young said that during the KRBD interview, "I used a term that was commonly used during my days growing up on a farm in central California.  I know that this term is not used in the same way nowadays and I meant no disrespect."

In his statement, Young said migrant workers "play an important role in America’s workforce, and earlier in the said interview, I discussed the compassion and understanding I have for these workers and the hurdles they face in obtaining citizenship. America must once and for all tackle the issue of immigration reform.”

The Republican National Committee has in recent days and weeks urged the party to adjust its tone on issues of immigration and gay rights and to try harder to appeal to minority communities.

But Young isn't the first to foil that plan. A Republican National Committee official on Wednesday posted an article to his Facebook page that referenced the "filthy" homosexual lifestyle.

Young, 79, has represented his House district since 1973 and is currently facing an ethics investigation.

Audio is below:

Follow Aaron on Twitter at @AaronBlakeWP.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix, the Post’s top political blog.
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