Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley delivers remarks before U.S. President Barack Obama takes the stage at a Costco store January 29, 2014 in Lanham, Maryland.
Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images
By Sam Frizell
July 14, 2015

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley on Tuesday called for a broad sweep of executive actions to protect undocumented immigrants from deportation and detention, touting his work as governor of Maryland and saying he would go further than President Obama as he seeks to attract the support of Hispanic voters.

Speaking at a roundtable in downtown Manhattan and surrounded by a group of immigration activists, O’Malley condemned current immigration laws and said reform was necessary for “making the economy work for all of us.”

“We are, and always have been, a nation of immigrants and our immigration laws must reflect our values,” he said. “The enduring symbol of our nation is the Statue of Liberty, not a barbed wire fence.”

O’Malley said that he would go beyond Obama’s executive actions in securing relief to undocumented immigrants. “I believe that every president moves the ball down the field as much as they can,” O’Malley said. “I would move it farther.”

Obama’s executive actions, however, have been stopped up in federal courts, and it’s unclear whether further executive actions would be effective.

The two-term Maryland governor called for deferred action to provide immediate deportation relief to all individuals covered by the Senate’s immigration reform bill, which was halted by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

He also called for expanding healthcare coverage to undocumented parents and children who are already protected from deportation, limiting detention of illegal immigrants, providing legal advice immigrants threatened with deportation and creating an independent agency to advise eligibility for immigration to the United States.

O’Malley said in a statement that he was confident that his proposed actions would be deemed legal, despite the challenges in federal courts to President Obama’s immigration executive action. “Legal experts almost universally agree” that Obama’s actions will be upheld, O’Malley claimed.

Some of O’Malley’s proposals delved into the deeper complexities of immigration law, in line with the governor’s wonky approach to policy proposals which the campaign has prided itself on.

For example, many immigrants who have legal status must return to their home countries to obtain an a green card, but if they previously lived in the United States as undocumented immigrants, they are barred from reentering for 3 or 10 years. O’Malley said he would grant broad waivers to those immigrants.

The policies, O’Malley said, are not about “identity politics” or appealing to any particular demographic of voters. “It’s really about us,” O’Malley said repeating a common refrain he has used on the campaign trail. “U-dot-S. The U.S.”

“When we have national election for president, it’s more than filling a job, it’s an opportunity to forge a new consensus,” O’Malley said.

As governor, O’Malley signed a laws making it easier for undocumented immigrants to obtain drivers licenses and pay in-state tuition rates at college.

O’Malley’s comments won early approval from some immigration activists like the Dream Act Coalition. Jorge Ramos, the widely influential Univision news anchor, tweeted in Spanish, “Governor Martin O’Malley today proposed the most ambitious immigration plan among all candidates (with health insurance).”

Cesar Vargas, co-director of the Dream Act Coalition, praised the plan for being detailed.

“Unlike other candidates of both parties, Governor O’Malley’s immigration platform is bold and has concrete details, particularly that he will commit to executive action first year of office,” he said in a statement.

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