Washington - US lawmakers on Friday denounced Republican Congressman from Alaska Don Young for describing Hispanic immigrants as "wetbacks," a derogatory term.
"Congressman Young's remarks were offensive and beneath the dignity of the office he holds," said House of Representatives speaker John Boehner.
"I don't care why he said it - there's no excuse and it warrants an immediate apology."
In a radio interview on Thursday, Young referred to his childhood in California in the 1960s, saying his father employed many "wetbacks" to pick tomatoes on the family's ranch.
The term "wetback" is a derogatory one for undocumented workers, who for decades have crossed the Rio Grande river that flows along much of the US-Mexico border.
Attempting to explain himself, Young said he had "used a term that was commonly used during my days growing up on a farm in central California.
"I know that this term is not used in the same way nowadays, and I meant no disrespect," he said in a statement.
But that was no excuse, said Ruben Hinojosa, a Democrat and leader of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
"Shame on Representative Don Young. 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," he said.
Republicans and Democrats alike are working on an immigration reform plan, a long-stalled effort that gained momentum after the November elections, in which Obama won another term thanks in part to overwhelming support from Hispanic voters.
In the same vein, the Republicans are debating internally how to change their strategy to curry favor with Hispanics, the largest minority group in the country.