Alaska Rep. Don Young uses slur to refer to migrant workers

11:12 AM, Mar 29, 2013   |    comments
Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska)
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(CBS NEWS) -- Longtime Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, described migrant farm workers as "wetbacks" in a radio interview Tuesday, later explaining that it was a term used during his childhood and he "meant no disrespect."

In the interview with KRBD, the 79-year-old Young spoke about how machines are changing the economy and the labor force, recalling, "I used to own - my father had a ranch. We used to hire 50 to 60 wetbacks to pick tomatoes. You know it takes two people to pick the same tomatoes now. It's all done by machine."

The term "wetback" is used pejoratively to describe Mexican and Central American immigrants who wade across the Rio Grande river along the U.S.-Mexico border to enter America.

In statement released by his office after the interview garnered publicity, Young, who has represented Alaska in Congress since 1973, explained, "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. I know that this term is not used in the same way nowadays, and I meant no disrespect."

"Migrant workers play an important role in America's workforce," he added, "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."

Lupe Marroquin, the president of the Hispanic Affairs Council of Alaska, called Young's remark "bad form," telling the Anchorage Daily News that Hispanic Americans mean "more to the economy than just picking fruit."

"It kind of opens your eyes to the way Don Young thinks," she said. "He didn't even pause. It's like that's just what he calls migrant farm workers."

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