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Alaskan Congressman Don Young is under fire for comments he made about immigrant workers during a recent radio interview. He is now saying he "meant no disrespect" by using the term "wetback." NBC's Kelly O'Donnell reports.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, on Friday demanded an immediate apology from a fellow Republican congressman, who referred to laborers with the derogatory term "wetback."
The Capitol's top elected Republican condemned Alaska Rep. Don Young's comments during a radio interview on Thursday, in which he casually used the slur to refer to farm workers whose jobs have been rendered useless by technological advances.
"Congressman Young’s remarks were offensive and beneath the dignity of the office he holds," Boehner said in a statement. "I don’t care why he said it – there’s no excuse and it warrants an immediate apology."
Young said Thursday on KRBD: "My father had a ranch; we used to have 50-60 wetbacks to pick tomatoes. It takes two people to pick the same tomatoes now. It’s all done by machine."
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Young said in a subsequent statement released by his office that he "meant no disrespect" by the remark, explaining that the term was one used commonly during his days growing up on a farm in California.
The comment, though, threatens to inflame Republicans' already-poor standing among Latino voters, an increasingly influential voting bloc who favored President Barack Obama and many Democrats during last fall's campaign.
Democrats, already, have seized upon the comments.
"As the Republican minority outreach efforts develop, I’d advise their strategists to list 'don’t say racial slurs like 'wetback'' as a bedrock for their messaging," said Rep. Rubén Hinojosa, Texas, the chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, on Friday.
The risk of political fallout for Republicans stemming from Young's remarks have prompted other Republicans to condemn the remarks on Friday.
"The words used by Representative Young emphatically do not represent the beliefs of the Republican Party," said Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, who oversaw the recent release of a report stressing the need to improve the GOP's outreach to Hispanic voters.
"As I have continued to say, everyone in this country deserves to be treated with dignity and respect," Priebus added. "Our party represents freedom and opportunity for every American and a beacon of hope to those seeking liberty throughout the world. Offensive language and ethnic slurs have no place in our public discourse."
"Migrant workers come to America looking for opportunity and a way to provide a better life for their families. They do not come to this country to hear ethnic slurs and derogatory language from elected officials," said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, the No. 2 Senate Republican. "The comments used by Rep. Young do nothing to elevate our party, political discourse or the millions who come here looking for economic opportunity."
This story was originally published on Fri Mar 29, 2013 11:42 AM EDT