On Saturday, former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley became the third Democratic candidate to enter the 2016 presidential race. In his announcement, O’Malley said that “for the sake of our country’s security, and our country’s well-being, and our country’s economic growth” comprehensive immigration reform must include a path to citizenship. However, O’Malley has not only been a vocal supporter of immigration reform on the federal level, he also took practical measures to welcome immigrants in Maryland during his two terms as governor.

O’Malley signed the Maryland DREAM Act, which allows DREAMers who graduate from Maryland high schools to pay the same in-state college tuition rates as other Marylanders. The bill was put in limbo after Maryland’s Republican lawmakers successfully petitioned for a statewide referendum on the issue. However, O’Malley continued to strongly defend the law by raising funds for the group Educating Maryland Kids who worked to defeat the referendum. Maryland voters went on to defeat it and approve the law in 2012.

Also, under O’Malley, the Baltimore City Detention Center stopped automatically honoring detainer requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to hold immigrants for deportation and only honored these detainer requests when an immigrant was charged with or convicted of a felony, three or more misdemeanors, or a “serious” misdemeanor—or the crimes that Secure Communities was originally meant to target. O’Malley said instead, resources should be focused on “complying with ICE detainers when there is an actual threat to the public’s safety… no family should be ripped apart because the Republican Congress can’t come to the table and reach a reasonable compromise on comprehensive immigration reform.” However, he did face some criticism that the measure was too narrow and did not go far enough.

In 2013, O’Malley also signed into law a measure that allowed undocumented immigrants to obtain drivers licenses. As transportation expert Sarah Hendricks notes, this allows Maryland  to maximize on the economic and social contributions of undocumented immigrants and improves public safety in the state.

Then in 2014, when a surge of Central American mothers and their children came to the U.S. border seeking refuge from violence in their home countries O’Malley took a distinctively different tone from rival 2016 candidate Hillary Clinton. While Clinton said that those arriving should be sent back to their home countries because “we have to send a clear message just because your child gets across the border doesn’t mean your child gets to stay,” O’Malley told reporters at the National Governors Association that “we are not a country that should send children away and send them back to certain death.” He also encouraged members of the Hispanic National Bar Association to assist in the representation of these immigrant mothers and children to help them navigate legal process so “that their hopes and their dignity is properly represented in this, the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

If O’Malley’s record as Governor is any indication of where his administration will stand on immigration policy, it is likely he would take commonsense approaches that would make real progress on longstanding immigration challenges.

By Gregory Hauenstein.

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