Rubio to pope: 'No nation on Earth’ kinder to immigrants than US

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Sen. Marco RubioMarco RubioPoll: Rubio holds massive lead in primary Rubio: Turkey attack 'directed' by ISIS Trump: Rivals who don't back me shouldn't be allowed to run for office MORE (R-Fla.) rejected Pope Francis’s criticism of U.S. border security Thursday, arguing America has long welcomed legal immigrants on its soil.

“There’s no nation on Earth that’s more compassionate on immigration than we are,” he said after a rally in Anderson, S.C.

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“We accept a million people a year into the U.S., legally, every year,” the GOP presidential candidate added. "Mexico doesn’t do that. No other nation in the world does that.”

Rubio then argued that America must protect its territorial security or risk exposing its citizens to danger instead.

“I’m an elected official in the United States of America in the federal government and our No. 1 obligation is keep people safe and immigration is a part of that,” he said. "This country does not just have a right but an obligation to control the process by which the people enter the United States and by which people immigrate into the United States.

“The Vatican controls who comes in, when they come in and how they come in as a nation-state or a city-state,” Rubio added of the papacy. "As a result the United States has a right to do the same.”

Rubio, a Catholic, said he still admires Francis despite disagreeing with the spiritual leader’s assessment of America’s border policies.

“As a Roman Catholic, he’s the head of the church and he’s the successor of [Saint] Peter. I have tremendous respect for him.”

Francis recently concluded a trip to Mexico by laying a wreath on the border between both nations symbolizing refugees who died attempting passage into the U.S.

He also outraged Donald TrumpDonald TrumpLynch pressured to recuse herself after Clinton tarmac meeting Trump: 'I’m just flabbergasted’ by Clinton-Lynch meet Trump's new digital strategist quickly leaves campaign MORE earlier Thursday by suggesting the GOP presidential front-runner’s call for a wall separating America and Mexico is “not Christian."

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