Republican lawmaker apologizes for using term "wetbacks"

Washington, Mar 29 (EFE).- Long-serving Republican lawmaker Don Young has issued an apology after sparking criticism for referring to Hispanic migrant farmworkers as "wetbacks."

"My father had a ranch; we used to have 50 to 60 wetbacks to pick tomatoes," the legislator from Alaska and one of the most senior members of the U.S. House of Representatives said in a radio interview Thursday.

"It takes two people to pick the same tomatoes now. It's all done by machine."

The term "wetbacks" has a pejorative and racist connotation and is occasionally used to refer to undocumented migrants, particularly those who arrived from Mexico.

In a statement Thursday night, Young apologized for the slur, saying he employed 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," Young, who is serving his 21st term in the House, said.

Migrant workers "play an important role in America's workforce, and earlier in the said interview, I discussed the compassion and understanding I have for these workers and the hurdles they face in obtaining citizenship," the statement said.

"America must once and for all tackle the issue of immigration reform."

Young's remarks come at a time when Republicans are re-examining their law enforcement-centered approach to immigration reform in a bid to win over Hispanic voters, who overwhelmingly supported the Democrats in the 2012 elections.