As his party is in the midst of a on-going minority outreach campaign, Alaska Republican Congressman Don Young gave an interview Thursday to local radio station KRBD in which he referred to Latino farm workers as “wetbacks.”
Asked about bringing jobs back to America, Young recalled the workers on his father’s farm in California, where he grew up.
“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.”
Young issued a response to the remarks late Thursday evening. ”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.”
He continued, “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.”
Young, the second most senior Republican serving in the House, has represented Alaska’s only congressional district for four decades. He won reelection in 2012 with 63% of the vote. While the remarks may be politically perilous for the rest of his party, the impact in his own district might not be as severe. According to the most recent census, less than 6% of the Alaska population self-identified as Hispanic.