08/21/2013 09:37 am ET Updated Aug 22, 2013

Racist Juror Comment Leads To New Trial For Mexican Restaurateurs


Here’s one juror who has trouble laying aside his prejudice.

A federal judge allowed two Mexican restaurant owners, in the state of Maine, accused of hiring undocumented workers to have a new trial on Monday after he was told that a juror used racist language to refer to the defendants, the Bangor Daily News reports.

A U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services officer wrote to Judge Broack Hornby to say he’d had a conversation with the juror in which he said brothers Hector and Guillermo Fuentes were “all guilty wetbacks anyway,” according to the paper, citing the judge’s 23-page decision. The Fuentes brothers, both of whom are lawful permanent residents, own the Fajita Grill and two Cancún restaurants.

The racially charged term “wetback” grabbed headlines back in March, when Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) used it during a radio interview while discussing immigration reform.

“My father had a ranch. We used to have 50 to 60 wetbacks to pick tomatoes,” Young said. “It takes two people to pick the same tomatoes now. It’s all done by machine.”

Critics took Young to task for his use of the disparaging epithet, prompting explanation that only stoked further outrage: “I know that this term is not used in the same way nowadays and I meant no disrespect.” Young apologized after Latino leaders pounced on him, saying the term has always been offensive.

Merriam-Webster defines the term “wetback” as “usually offensive.” Originating as a slur against people who illegally cross the Rio Grande river in Texas, the word refers primarily to Mexicans, especially undocumented immigrants.

Young may have had a point about the word’s historical use, however. While the term is undeniably pejoritive, it was more widely used when he was growing up. In a 1972 interview, for example, civil rights leader Cesar Chavez referred to Mexican strike breakers as “wetbacks” and “illegals” -- language that few Latino leaders would use today.



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