(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Young, Alaska's sole congressman, originally made the offensive comment during a sit-down interview with Ketchikan Public Radio earlier this week.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.
READ MORE: Republicans chide Young for his 'wetbacks' comment
READ MORE: Alaska Rep. Don Young walks back 'wetbacks'
What is a wetback? Asians or brown Mexican Native American Indians?
We are betrayed, fellow Americans.
This is class warfare.
Illegal immigrants flood the labor pool, crippling labor's ability to demand fair wages.
Exporting jobs takes skilled labor and engineering/technical work.
And the Republicans want their elites to have slave labor and cheap Chinese jobs while the democrats need the votes.
Stop pandering to these criminal's it's getting pathetic and all American's want to see is mass deportation's and the rounding up of these law breaking free loaders that are destroying this ounce great nation ! They have no right's !
I just used 10 racial slurs.........feel much better.
yes make it easy for the next president Hilary Clinton.
Keep it up GOP while the rest of America watches shakes our heads with amusement as each misstep causes loss of relevancy and credibility. Seem to always seem to be cleaning up gaffes like this or stalling congress.
Ahh, the republican outreach program at its finest.
What's in the heart, is what eventually comes out of the mouth. If you keep saying stupid and offensive stuff, then you really need a change of heart.
The term 'wetback' actually came to fruition because of one of the the ways these people sneak into this country, which is swimming across the Rio Grande river. You swim, you get a wet back.
So when you think about it, the term really is a pretty accurate description.
Big deal! So many of you on here are such whiners. And I'm not even a Republican but the comments like "this is your Republican party, America" is so idiotic and off-base. Try being human beings for a change instead of people like the Dominican mama for Obama who wants immigration "reform" so she can get more free stuff in the U.S.
Wetback. There, I said it. Now go and be offended.
Man, That Rebranding sure looks like its working......
He was just saying what the others in his party WISH they could say in public and get away with it. The GOP is NO friend of minorities or other hard-working Americans.
SURE ARE a lot of ignorant, bigoted Americans out there making comments...
Only the best lawyers know what words not to use in public. He just lost a whole lot of potential clients.
When a group of people habitually break the law with impunity for 30+ years, there's going to be friction and ill will.
Pretending it's some crime against humanity is a joke.
That's just life, buy a helmet.
Republicans will be Republicans
Wow, where has this guy been! They don't even know when they are being offensive!
I'm Mexican American, there are a lot worse names he could have used. If all of these people went back to Mexico or where ever, good luck finding someone to their job.
Racial slur? You talking about Joe Biden who said obama was a "Clean Black Man"? Democrat Party is evil.
Wetback is a moderately offensive derogatory term meant to indicate that somebody crossed the Rio Grande river to get into the U.S. illegally (i.e. illegal alien). It is very inappropriate for any Congressman to use such language. However, it's not inappropriate to be upset about these people breaking our laws and draining our social services and taking our jobs.
LOL Republicans have so many racists in their party its funny watching this stuff constantly happen. Even funnier that they're trying to reform into a party more open to minorities, especially hispanics.
To all of the white people calling Mexicans immigrants, they have more of a right to be here then you do! Their ancestors are from North America, yours are from Europe. Why don't YOU leave!!!
I am so sick and tired of politicians intentionally saying stupid things. They know that all they have to do is say some canned apology and then all is good. Well it's not. You got the message across that you wanted. Wetback is a derogatory term for a Mexican that works hard in the field and the back is wet due to sweat. Growing up in CA he knows exactly what the term means. Another reason why we need term limits. This is the idiots 21st term. Go figure he is from Alaskia where the Sarah Palins live. That says it all.
Really hard to rebrand your party when it's full of idiots.