Republican Congressman Refers to Latinos as "Wetbacks"

Rep. Don Young's comments won't help GOP re-branding effort.

ByABC News
March 28, 2013, 11:50 PM

March 28, 2013— -- The Republican Party has embarked on an effort to re-brand itself to a more diverse set of voters, but one GOP congressman apparently did not get the memo.

Rep. Don Young (Alaska) referred to Latinos using the racial slur "wetbacks" in an interview with public radio station KRBD that was published on Thursday.

Young, 79, used the term when discussing how automation in industry has taken away jobs from working-class individuals.

"I used to own -- my father had a ranch. We used to hire 50 to 60 wetbacks to pick tomatoes," he said. "You know, it takes two people to pick the same tomatoes now."

Young's use of the derogatory term for Mexican migrant workers could not have come at a worse time for his party.

The Republican National Committee released a post-election report that called on the party to present a friendlier face to voters from different racial and ethnic groups, so that it can compete for their votes. And a number of Republicans have jumped on board with an immigration reform effort underway in Congress.

"If Hispanic Americans perceive that a GOP nominee or candidate does not want them in the United States (i.e. self-deportation), they will not pay attention to our next sentence," the report reads. "It does not matter what we say about education, jobs or the economy; if Hispanics think we do not want them here, they will close their ears to our policies."

In a statement, Young did not apologize for his use of the term but he explained that it came from his time growing up in a bygone era. Young also called on Congress to address immigration reform, since migrant workers "play an important role in America's workforce."

"I used a term that was commonly used during my days growing up on a farm in central California," he said. "I know that this term is not used in the same way nowadays and I meant no disrespect."

Update, 3:55 PM:

After facing calls from top Republicans, such as House Speaker John Boehner, to apologize, Young's office released another statement doing so.

"I apologize for the insensitive term I used during an interview in Ketchikan, Alaska," the congressman said in the written statement. "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."