News / USA

US Lawmaker Apologizes for Calling Latinos 'Wetbacks'

U.S. Representative Don Young addresses a Choose Respect rally in front of the Alaska state capitol on March 28, 2013, in Juneau. While drawing criticism for calling Hispanics "wetbacks," he also faces a separate ethics investigation.
U.S. Representative Don Young addresses a Choose Respect rally in front of the Alaska state capitol on March 28, 2013, in Juneau. While drawing criticism for calling Hispanics "wetbacks," he also faces a separate ethics investigation.
TEXT SIZE - +
— A U.S. lawmaker has apologized for using the derogatory term “wetbacks” to describe Latinos, after coming under fire from rights group and his own political party for his choice of words.

Republican Don Young, who represents the far northern U.S. state of Alaska in the House of Representatives, issued a full apology Friday.

"I apologize for the insensitive term I used during an interview in Ketchikan, Alaska,” he said in a statement. “There was no malice in my heart or intent to offend; it was a poor choice of words. That word, and the negative attitudes that come with it, should be left in the 20th century, and I’m sorry that this has shifted our focus away from comprehensive immigration reform."

Young used the word “wetbacks” in an interview with local radio station KRBD.

“My father had a ranch. We used to hire 50 or 60 wetbacks and — to pick tomatoes,” the 79-year-old said, describing his days growing up on a farm in central California. “You know, it takes two people to pick the same tomatoes now. It’s all done by machine.”

The word “wetback” was used years ago to describe Mexicans who illegally entered the United States. It evolved from the practice of crossing the waters of the Rio Grande River, which forms part of the border between the U.S. and Mexico.

Political backlash

Members of Congress are grappling with how to shape new immigration legislation that will affect 11 million undocumented foreigners in the U.S.

Young’s Republican Party, which is aggressively courting Latino votes after flailing in the last election, sharply criticized Young for his comment.

Republican Senator John Coryn of Texas was just one of the politicians who took a stand.

“Migrant workers come to America looking for opportunity and a way to provide a better life for their families,” Cornyn said in a statement. “They do not come to this country to hear ethnic slurs and derogatory language from elected officials. The comments used by Rep. Young do nothing to elevate our party, political discourse or the millions who come here looking for economic opportunity.”

Power of language

Immigration has been a sensitive issue in the U.S. for a long time, and language used in the immigration debates has had long-term effects on social policies, according to a new study published this week in The American Sociological Review.

The study compares the policies and rhetoric used in the U.S. states of Arizona and California during the 1990s and shows that the tone of the debates affected welfare reform battles later.

At the time, policymakers in Arizona and California, home to 40 percent of the Hispanic population, were arguing that providing generous welfare benefits would draw illegal Hispanic immigrants across the border from Mexico.

Hana Brown, the author of the study, says policymakers and anti-immigration activists in Arizona and California successfully restricted the rights of undocumented immigrants, but the language each used had different impacts on welfare.

She says Arizona framed the debate in racial terms, calling undocumented foreigners “Mexicans” and “Latinos,” while California framed it in legal terms, calling non-citizens “illegal immigrants.”

In time, Arizona ended up adopting much stricter welfare policies than California, although they both faced similar immigration challenges.

Looking ahead

Brown says although race has largely been removed from the current immigration debate because of the strength of Latino voters, members of Congress may begin to use more divisive language when it comes to deciding who deserves benefits.

“It’s those linguistic distinctions, those ways of framing the debate, that can continue to have repercussions even after we have passed a comprehensive immigration reform,” she said.

You May Like

Wikipedia Proves Useful for Tracking Flu

Technique gave better results than Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Google’s Flu Trends More

Turkish Law Gives Spy Agency Controversial Powers

Parliament approves legislation to bolster powers of intelligence service, which government claims is necessary to modernize and deal with new threats Turkey faces More

Video Face of American Farmer Changing

Average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Face of American Farmer is Changingi
X
Mike Osborne
April 18, 2014
The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid