Alaskan Rep. Don Young has apologized for a comment he made, referring to Hispanic migrant workers as the racial slur "wetbacks."
"My father had a ranch; we used to have 50-60 wetbacks to pick tomatoes," Young, a 79-year-old Republican in his 21st term in the House, told Alaska's KRBD radio in a story posted Thursday. "It takes two people to pick the same tomatoes now. It’s all done by machine."
He has since voiced his regret for using the racial slur during a long interview in which he discussed the economy and Arctic development.
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"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," Young said. "I know that this term is not used in the same way nowadays and I meant no disrespect."
In his statement, Young also said 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."
The word, now commonly known as an ethnic slur, originally referred to Mexicans who came to the United States illegally by crossing the Rio Grande that borders Texas. It was also used by the US government in the 1950s during a crackdown on illegal immigration on the US-Mexico border called "Operation Wetback."
The Republican Party is currently attempting to soften its hardline positions on those in the United States illegally in order to improve its image among Hispanic voters.