(CNN) - After heated backlash, U.S. Rep. Don Young of Alaska has apologized for using a derogatory word to describe immigrant workers.
"I apologize for the insensitive term I used during an interview in Ketchikan, Alaska," the Republican lawmaker wrote in a statement Friday afternoon. "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Young, Alaska's sole congressman, originally made the offensive comment during a sit-down interview with Ketchikan Public Radio earlier this week. Talking about how technology is affecting the economy, he referenced an anecdote from previously working on a farm in California.
"My father had a ranch; we used to have 50-60 wetbacks to pick tomatoes," Young said. "It takes two people to pick the same tomatoes now. It's all done by machine."
Initially, Young said he had "used a term that was commonly used during my days growing up on a farm in Central California," adding that he "meant no disrespect."
That wasn't enough for some Republicans, who loudly called for Young to formally apologize.
In perhaps one of the most forceful reactions, House Speaker John Boehner called for an "immediate apology" from the congressman, who's now serving his 21st term.
"Congressman Young's remarks were offensive and beneath the dignity of the office he holds. I don't care why he said it – there's no excuse," Boehner said.
Sen. John McCain, one of the leading GOP voices on immigration reform, said on Twitter that Young's comments "were offensive and have no place in our Party or in our nation's discourse."
"He should apologize immediately," he added.
CNN's Ashley Killough and Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.
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