Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) sharply criticized GOP Rep. Don Young, calling his “wetback” comment an “ethnic slur” that hurts the GOP.
“Migrant workers come to America looking for opportunity and a way to provide a better life for their families,” Cornyn, the second-ranking Senate Republican, said in a statement on Friday.
Young, an Alaska Republican serving his 21st term, used the derogatory term in an interview with Alaska's KRDB-FM radio on Thursday. In describing the debate over immigration reform, he said “my father had a ranch; we used to have 50-60 wetbacks to pick tomatoes.”
Young apologized for the remark later on Thursday.
In his apology, Young said the term had been used more casually when he was growing up.
“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.”
Democrats quickly pounced on the comments.
“Shame on Rep. Don Young,” Rep. Rubén Hinojosa (D-Texas), the chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said in a statement. “It is deeply disheartening that in 2013 we are forced to have a discussion about a member of Congress using such hateful words and racial slurs.”
Hinojosa urged other top Republicans like House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to condemn 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,” Hinojosa continued. “Our country needs reform that can only be achieved with a bipartisan effort. I am urging Republican leaders, including Speaker Boehner, to condemn this behavior and ask members in their party to act responsibly.”