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Republicans distance themselves from Young's 'wetbacks' remark

Friday - 3/29/2013, 3:30pm  ET

WASHINGTON (AP) -- An Alaska congressman is getting criticism from his fellow Republicans and others, after referring to Hispanic migrant workers as "wetbacks."

Don Young, who is the second-most-senior Republican in the House, was discussing the labor market with an Alaska radio station (KRBD) and said that on his father's farm in central California, where he grew up, there used to be 50 or 60 "wetbacks" picking tomatoes. These days, he said, those same tomatoes can be picked by two people and a machine.

The term "wetbacks" often refers to Mexican migrants who have entered the country illegally. Hispanics consider the word to be highly offensive.

Young's use of the word comes as Republicans try to temper the party's hard-line position on illegal immigrants, and improve their standing among Hispanic voters.

House Speaker John Boehner (BAY'-nur) says the remark was "offensive and beneath the dignity of the office" that Young holds. And GOP chairman Reince Priebus (ryns PREE'-bus) says the remarks "emphatically do not represent the beliefs" of the party.

Young, in a statement, says he "meant no disrespect." He says it's a term that was commonly used when he was growing up in rural California. He also said he had discussed during the interview the "compassion and understanding" he has for the migrant workers.

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173-v-32-(Jerry Bodlander, AP correspondent)--A veteran lawmaker is being sharply criticized for using a racial slur. AP correspondent Jerry Bodlander reports. (29 Mar 2013)

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APPHOTO WX101: FILE - In this Oct. 20, 2011 file photo, Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska speaks in Anchorage, Alaska. Young, one of the most senior Republicans in the House, has apologized for using the racial slur "wetbacks" in referring to Hispanic migrant workers. Young, now in his 21st term in the House, said in an interview with Alaska's KRBD radio that when he was young, his father "used 50-60 wetbacks to pick tomatoes" on their California farm. (AP Photo/Dan Joling, File) (20 Oct 2011)


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