By David Eggert,  Associated Press

SPRING ARBOR TWP. (AP) – Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson said Wednesday he welcomes immigrants to America, but they cannot alter “who we are.”

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The retired neurosurgeon, speaking at a Christian college in his native Michigan, said he wants to preserve the U.S. as “Judeo-Christian.” He has blamed political correctness for the fallout over his recent statement against electing a Muslim president, which he later clarified by saying he would be open to a moderate Muslim who denounces radical Islam.

“I have no interest in being like everybody else and giving away all of our values and principles for the sake of political correctness,” Carson told a crowd at Spring Arbor University near Jackson, about 75 miles west of Detroit, where he grew up and launched his campaign in May. “There is such a thing as an American dream and the American way. Anybody is welcome to come to America, but they don’t get to change who we are.”

Carson has been among the leading GOP contenders in recent polls.

In his 30-minute speech, he told of rising from poverty with the help of his single mother. He accused Democrats of dividing Americans, calling the “war on women” a “phony thing” and “all hype.” He said his life was “shaped and made successful by women.”

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The Detroit area has one of the largest Middle Eastern populations in the country, with Arab-Muslims representing the largest ethnic group of Muslims in the area.

Carson pointed to nations where women are not allowed to drive, their court testimony is worth less than men and they are treated like “chattel.”

“We do not want to import that type of ideology into America,” he said to sustained applause.

In a question-and-answer session with the crowd, Carson said he would revamp the Department of Veterans Affairs so veterans attend its hospitals for specialty care — brain injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder treatment, limb replacement and research — but not necessarily routine services, so chronic delays would be avoided. He decried targeted violence against police, saying every profession has some “inappropriate” actors but law enforcement still deserves respect.

“If a police officer stops you,” Carson said, “don’t give him a bunch of lip.”

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