Former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley attacked Hillary Clinton on Thursday for using the term illegal immigrants instead of undocumented at a campaign event, and implied the front-runner for the Democratic nomination has been disingenuous in her support for immigration reform.
O’Malley made his remarks in an interview on KLRU’s Overheard With Evan Smith in Austin, where he is seeking to build support among Latinos for his candidacy.
“Before one audience, she will talk about immigration reform and the need for it,” O’Malley said. “Before another audience, she’ll use the term illegal immigrants and boast about having voted to build a wall and barbed-wire fence.”
He was referring to remarks Clinton made on Monday while campaigning in New Hampshire at a town hall, where a voter asked Clinton what she would do to secure the border with Mexico. (O’Malley prefers the term new American.)
“Well, I voted numerous times when I was a Senator to spend money to build a barrier to try to prevent illegal immigrants from coming in,” Clinton told the audience. “And I do think you have to control your borders.”
Clinton’s use of the phrase illegal immigrants prompted quick backlash among liberals who believe it is an offensive term to describe immigrants, including Jose Antonio Vargas and other activists.
Clinton went on to say it is “unnecessarily provocative” to claim to want to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants, as Republican candidates like Donald Trump have called for. She said, “We need to secure our borders, I’m for it, I voted for it, I believe in it, and we also need to deal with the families, the workers who are here, who have made contributions, and their children.”
Some immigration activists said that Clinton appeared to overemphasize the importance of securing the border, a talking point among conservatives that also was a central element in a bipartisan immigration bill in the Senate.
Clinton has called for comprehensive immigration reform and said she would go further than President Obama in protecting undocumented immigrants from deportation. She also said in the first Democratic debate that she is in favor of allowing undocumented immigrants to purchase plans under Obamacare, but was not in favor of giving undocumented immigrants subsidies.
O’Malley has released a detailed immigration plan and said he would give Obamacare subsidies to undocumented immigrants. As Maryland governor, he moved to give undocumented immigrants access to in-state tuition at the University of Maryland, a measure he supports nationally.