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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson on Sunday called for using drones to beef up surveillance along the U.S.-Mexico border and destroy caves used by those who smuggle people and drugs, but said he did not support strikes aimed at people.

Carson, speaking on CNN’s State of the Union, dismissed reports that he had suggested using drone strikes to target people trying to cross into the United States as a “total lie” and blamed media reports as irresponsible.

“Read my lips. I said there are caves that they utilize. Those caves can be eliminated. I’m not talking about killing people,” the retired neurosurgeon told CNN. “In no way, did I suggest that drones be used to kill people.”

Carson suggested greater use of drones to patrol border areas after a tour of the region last week. He said local authorities told him they were completely outgunned and receiving little assistance from federal authorities.

Immigration has become a contentious issue for Republicans seeking the presidency in the November 2016 election. Donald Trump, the party’s front-runner, and other contenders have called for amending the Constitution to end of the right of automatic citizenship for all people born in the United States.

Carson reiterated his support for deporting families who come to the United States expressly to have children and ensure them U.S. citizenship. Critics call those children “anchor babies,” but others view it as offensive.

Carson said he did not view the term as racist and dismissed such objections as “silly political correctness.”

A Reuters/Ipsos poll on Friday showed Trump with 32 percent of the support of Republicans, followed by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush with 16 percent, and Carson with 8 percent.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Dominic Evans)

Photo: Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson speaks at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, Iowa August 16, 2015. REUTERS/Joshua Lott

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