Ben Carson says illegal immigrants are partly to blame for the measles outbreak.
Carson, a retired neurosurgeon considering a 2016 run for the White House, said it's a fact that people are entering the country illegally without being screened for measles.
While U.S. citizens who don't get vaccinated are also a factor in this year's rising number of measles cases, he said it's "a combination of noncompliance [with vaccine requirements] and introduction into our society of people who perhaps haven’t been well screened."
Carson said he wasn't trying to speak in code when he was asked by CNN host Chris Cuomo if he was turning the measles debate into an immigration debate.
"It’s not code, and I’m not trying to make it into any particular argument. I’m stating what the facts are," he replied. "The facts are that there are people in our country who have become lax in terms of their vigilance, getting their kids immunized, and we have people coming in who are not necessarily being properly screened. That’s not making it an issue, it’s stating facts."
Carson was unable to point to an example of someone in the country illegally who had caused a problem by not being vaccinated.
"Let me put it this way, if I found you somebody who came in from another country who had not been vaccinated and caused a problem, would that convince you?" Carson replied, before adding, "No."
"It’s not to prejudice anybody, but we have to deal with reality, and if you have people coming into your country who have not been properly screened, who have not had the same kind of care as people in this country, I don’t think you have to be a genius to figure out that that could introduce some communicable problems," Carson added.
A return of the measles, mostly in California, has been linked to the refusal of some parents to vaccinate their children. The issue of vaccination has flared up, after prospective Republican presidential candidates New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulRand Paul: Chris Cuomo firing 'a small step toward CNN regaining any credibility' GOP anger with Fauci rises Congress's goal in December: Avoid shutdown and default MORE (R-Ky.) indicated that parents should have some choice as to whether to vaccinate their children.
Carson is on the pro-vaccination side.
“Certain communicable diseases have been largely eradicated by immunization policies in this country and we should not allow those diseases to return by foregoing safe immunization programs, for philosophical, religious or other reasons when we have the means to eradicate them,” he said in a statement on Monday.
He added a defense of the government's role on the issue in the CNN interview Wednesday.
"We have to recognize that public safety and public health is a responsibility of the government," he said.