NEW YORK -- Democratic presidential hopeful Martin O’Malley met with two former immigrant detainees on Tuesday prior to casting himself as the most liberal candidate on immigration in a speech at the three-day National Immigrant Integration Conference.
Facing an uphill battle against Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton and progressive darling Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), O’Malley has sought to stand out as a consistent advocate for immigrants rather than a fair-weather friend.
Prior to his speech at the conference, the former Maryland governor met with Abdullah Jobayer and Mohammed Aminul Islam, two Bangladeshi men who were recently released from immigrant detention after taking part in a hunger strike that began on Thanksgiving.
Both men said they face the threat of violence if they are deported to their home country. They described their long journey from Bangladesh to the United States -- crossing through the United Arab Emirates, Argentina, and South and Central America -- only to be detained by authorities at the U.S. border. The journey cost them $15,000.
"Let us not only end family detention, but all immigrant detention -- unless there is a grave risk to our national security," said former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) on Tuesday.“These men who were denied due process in the growing detention camps we have across the country,” O’Malley said.
All three Democratic candidates have adopted more liberal stances on immigration, largely as a response to the growing power of the Latino vote. But O’Malley said his record makes him the strongest choice for the hundreds of immigrant rights activists and policymakers attending the conference on Tuesday.
O’Malley reminded the crowd that, as governor of Maryland, he signed laws allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses and pay in-state tuition at public universities. He mentioned the eight-page outline of all the immigration actions he’d pursue as president. And when tens of thousands of unaccompanied children crossed into the United States while fleeing violence in Central America last year, many of them found refuge in Maryland.
“There were some governors around the country who spoke of these children as if they were a swarm of invading jackrabbits,” O’Malley said. “We took a different approach in Maryland. I said that we would care for these refugee children.”
O’Malley derided GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump an “immigrant-bashing carnival barker.” But he took most of his shots at his Democratic rivals, accusing them of taking cues from pollsters and “waiting until things are safe” before staking out controversial immigration positions.
He highlighted Sanders’ vote against comprehensive immigration reform in 2007 and Clinton's opposition to providing driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants in New York. He also recalled that Clinton's initial response to the child migrant crisis was to send children back to deter others from following them.
In an apparent reference to Clinton’s call to end family detention at the conference the previous day, O’Malley said: “Let us not only end family detention, but all immigrant detention -- unless there is a grave risk to our national security.”
Clinton unveiled a proposal to waive more fees for immigrants eligible for naturalization at the conference on Monday. Sanders was slated to address the conference Tuesday afternoon.
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