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McCain Disputes Brewer's Claim That Most Illegal Immigrants Smuggling Drugs

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Sen. John McCain answers a question at a town hall meeting June 4 in Mesa, Ariz. (AP Photo)

Arizona Sen. John McCain said Sunday that he does not agree with his governor's controversial statement that most illegal immigrants are being used to transport drugs across the border. 

Asked in an interview whether he agrees that most illegal immigrants are "drug mules," the Republican senator said: "No." 

However, McCain said Gov. Jan Brewer is still doing a "good job" for her state and is on the right track when she warns about the influence of the drug cartels in the border region. 

"I think that there's a large number (of illegal immigrants smuggling drugs) and I think she's right in that the drug cartels' movement has dramatically increased," McCain said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "I may not agree with one sentence that she uses, but she's standing up for Arizona and I think that the people of my state deserve a better environment of security than the one they're getting from the federal government now." 

McCain cited as one concern the fact that signs have gone up in parkland along the border warning visitors not to travel there because of the presence of smuggling routes. 

The senator weighed in after Brewer said Friday that while many immigrants try to enter the United States for work, the drug rings press them into duty. She said "the majority of the illegal trespassers that are coming into the state of Arizona are under the direction and control of organized drug cartels and they are bringing drugs in." 

Critics slammed the governor, who in April signed the state's controversial law making illegal immigration a state crime, calling on her to produce evidence to back up her claim or take it back. 

Sen. Jesus Ramon Valdes, a member of the Mexican Senate's northern border affairs commission, called Brewer's comments racist and irresponsible. 

"Traditionally, migrants have always been needy, humble people who in good faith go looking for a way to better the lives of their families," Ramon Valdes said. 

A Border Patrol spokesman said illegal immigrants do sometimes carry drugs across the border, but he said he couldn't provide numbers because the smugglers are turned over to prosecutors. 

In the wake of the criticism, Brewer released a written statement Friday doubling down on her claim. 

"The simple truth is that the majority of human smuggling in our state is under the direction of the drug cartels, which are by definition smuggling drugs," she said, citing a Los Angeles Times report from March 2009 that found "the business of smuggling humans across the Mexican border has been brisk, with many thousands coming across every year." 

The report, quoting government officials and congressional testimonies, also found that smugglers affiliated with the drug cartels "have taken the enterprise to a new level -- and made it more violent -- by commandeering much of the operation from independent coyotes." 

Brewer added that the article and "many federal government reports have drawn the same conclusions." 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.