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 says the remark was "offensive and beneath the dignity of the office" that Young holds. And GOP chairman Reince Priebus 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.