A United States congressman says that the unaccompanied youths coming from Central America across the U.S.-Mexico border should not be viewed as innocent kids fleeing unlivable conditions in their homeland.

Rep. Rich Nugent, a Florida Republican, said in a recent interview on a Ocala, Fla., radio program that many of them are connected to gangs and come from cultures where thievery and violence is the norm.

Nugent, the former sheriff of Hernando County, said the kids would bring nothing but trouble if they were allowed to remain in the U.S.

“A lot of these children … quote-unquote … you know, the first caller mentioned it, they’re gang members. They’re gang affiliated,” said Nugent, who was elected in 2010 and is seeking re-election this November.

“Listen, if you’re 14, 15, 16, 17 years old, and you’re coming from a country that’s gang-infested — particularly with MS-13 types, that is the most aggressive of all the street gangs,” he said on WOCA radio, according to published reports. “When you have those types coming across the border, they’re not children at that point. These kids have been brought up in a culture of thievery. A culture of murder, of rape. And now we are going to infuse them into the American culture. It’s just ludicrous.”

Some 60,000 unaccompanied minors have arrived illegally in the United States since last October in what is part of a soaring number of Central Americans crossing the U.S.-Mexico border in recent years.

Their defenders say they are fleeing violence and poverty, others say their parents have sent them on the dangerous journey in the belief that they will get legal status if they set foot in the U.S.

Nugent’s Democratic challenger, David Koller, assailed the congressman for, as he put it, putting demagoguery over pragmatism in addressing the border crisis.

“It sickens me that lives of these children are being defined by such hateful rhetoric by Rep. Nugent,” Koller said to Fox News Latino. “All Latino children are not gangsters as he broadly implicated. We should be addressing the situation [at the border] rather than using rhetoric to instill fear and create hate and dissension. I don’t believe that is in the spirit of America. America is a very inclusive country.”

“At the border we may need extra caseworkers, extra immigration processors out there, instead of just collecting children in centers,” he said. “I’d like to see some action in Congress instead of finger-pointing.”

Nugent, seen as a front-runner in the race against Koller to represent the 11th district, which is in Central Florida is known for his tough stance on immigration.

He earned an A from the group NumbersUSA, which favors strict immigration policies, for his get-tough approach to the issue.

During his time in Congress he has co-sponsored bills seeking to end family chain migration, the visa lottery and birthright citizenship, among other measures.

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