Sen. Cornyn slams Young's 'ethnic slur'

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.

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“They do not come to this country to hear ethnic slurs and derogatory language from elected officials,” he said. “The comments used by Rep. Young do nothing to elevate our party, political discourse or the millions who come here looking for economic opportunity.”

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.”