“My father had a ranch; we used to have 50-60 wetbacks to pick tomatoes,” Rep. Don Young, a Republican from Alaska, told radio station KRBD-FM matter-of-factly. “It takes two people to pick the same tomatoes now. It’s all done by machine,” he added with zero realization that his words in the sentence before would inspire condemnation.
Young’s use of the racist term to describe migrant workers is yet another bad moment on the rocky road of Republican minority outreach. Just last week GOP Chair Reince Priebus outlined those new efforts.
At 79, Young is one of the longest serving members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the second longest-serving Republican in Congress. Young later made an attempt at an apology, saying that he meant “no disrespect” when he used the term “wetbacks” to describe migrant workers. “I used a word that was commonly used,” Young pointed out.
But that such an obviously racist term could be used so casually and during a radio interview by a sitting senior member of Congress has clearly surprised many of Young’s colleagues, some of whom have been quick to denounced them.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) made a strong statement regarding Young’s use of the racial slur.
“Congressman Young’s remarks were offensive and beneath the dignity of the office he holds,” Speaker Boehner said. “I don’t care why he said it — there’s no excuse and it warrants an immediate apology.”
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus put out a statement saying that Young’s racist words, “emphatically do not represent the beliefs of the Republican Party.”
Embarrassing incidents such as the Young affair occur only a week before Congress is expected to work on immigration reform. Young’s words also come after Priebus announced a specific effort to court minority voters.
Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman Rubén Hinojosa (D-TX) released a statement mentioning those efforts that contained a hint of biting sarcasm.
“As the Republican minority outreach efforts develop, I’d advise their strategists to list ‘don’t say racial slurs like “wetback”‘ as a bedrock for their messaging,” Hinojosa said.