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Young apologizes for 'wetback' comment

March 29, 2013 at 5:04 PM   |   Comments

ANCHORAGE, Alaska, March 29 (UPI) -- U.S. Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, following withering criticism from Republican leaders, apologized Friday for using the term "wetback."

"I apologize for the insensitive term I used during an interview in Ketchikan, Alaska," Young, 79, said in a statement posted on his official website. "There was no malice in my heart or intent to offend; it was a poor choice of words. That word, and the negative attitudes that come with it, should be left in the 20th century, and I'm sorry that this has shifted our focus away from comprehensive immigration reform."

Young, in an interview that aired Thursday, referred to Latino workers on his family farm as "wetbacks." In an initial statement issued within hours of the interview being aired, he said he "meant no disrespect" but stopped short of apologizing.

"During a sit-down interview with Ketchikan Public Radio this week, I used a term that was commonly used during my days growing up on a farm in Central California," Young said then. "I know that this term is not used in the same way nowadays and I meant no disrespect."

During the radio interview on immigration reform, Young said he feared the United States had shipped off too many agricultural industry jobs and noted automation and technological advances have reduced the number of labor positions available.

"My father had a ranch; we used to have 50-60 wetbacks to pick tomatoes," he said. "It takes two people to pick the same tomatoes now. It's all done by machine."

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said in a statement on his website: "Congressman Young's remarks were offensive and beneath the dignity of the office he holds. I don't care why he said it -- there's no excuse and it warrants an immediate apology."

"Migrant workers come to America looking for opportunity and a way to provide a better life for their families," U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, the Senate minority whip, said in a statement.

"They do not come to this country to hear ethnic slurs and derogatory language from elected officials," he said.

U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., tweeted: "Don Young's comments were offensive and have no place in our Party or in our nation's discourse. He should apologize immediately."

"The words used by Representative Young emphatically do not represent the beliefs of the Republican Party," Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said in a statement. "Offensive language and ethnic slurs have no place in our public discourse."

The incident came less than two weeks after Priebus announced a $10 million outreach initiative to improve the party's standing among voters, particular minorities.

Rep. Ruben Hinojosa, D-Texas, chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, issued a statement calling on Republicans to condemn Young's use of the term.

"Shame on Rep. Don Young," the statement said. "It is deeply disheartening that in 2013 we are forced to have a discussion about a member of Congress using such hateful words and racial slurs."

Hinojosa said Young "has served alongside Hispanics in Congress since 1973, so he should know terms like 'wetback' have never been acceptable."

Young has been Alaska's House representative since 1973. He faces an ethics investigation on charges he improperly accepted gifts.

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