Former Maryland governor and Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley talked about comprehensive immigration reform, including access to education and affordable healthcare for immigrants, on DePaul’s Loop campus Thursday afternoon.
O’Malley fielded questions from an audience of immigration reform activists and business owners, members of the Illinois Business Immigration Coalition (IBIC), who hosted the forum in conjunction with DePaul, but not before highlighting his own accomplishments as governor of Maryland from 2007 to 2015.
“My parents always raised me with the understanding that we were all once strangers in a strange land, and every single day of my service as mayor and as governor, I’ve very consciously used the term not ‘illegal immigrants,’ but ‘new Americans,’” he said. “I stand before you today as the only presidential candidate who offers new Americans not just words, but actions, and I have a track record to prove it.”
Many of O’Malley’s accomplishments deal with education: he stated that under his Governorship, Maryland withstood increases in college tuition for four consecutive years, and that his administration increased investments to public education by 37 percent. He emphasized the 2011 implementation of the DREAM Act, which decreased college tuition rates at community colleges for undocumented students, who are ineligible for federal loans.
The theme of access to education for undocumented immigrants arose at several points, both in O’Malley’s introduction and through questions from leaders in the IBIC community. This is an issue hits close to home at DePaul, said Liz Ortiz, Vice President for the Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity.
“DePaul very rarely takes a stance on social policy, but it’s heartbreaking to see students suffer because of their undocumented status. I believe that DePaul stands with them because these are our students, this is what makes DePaul the university that it is,” she said.
A founding member of the IBIC, DePaul and specifically DePaul President Fr. Holtschneider, didn’t hesitate to accept the coalition’s request to hold the forum here, a spokeswoman for the university said. Fr. Holtschneider himself is an advocate for immigration reform, she said, evidenced by his several bylines on opinion pieces, letters, and the foreword of a book arguing for the DREAM Act and other routes to increase access for immigrants.
O’Malley, on the other hand, plans to use the oval office to accomplish this goal.
“As president, I intend to use the full legal and executive authority of my office —or I should say your office, entrusted to me — to safeguard and better include New Americans in the life of our country,” O’Malley said.
This inclusion, he said, will be in the form of expanding Deferred Action status to include millions of immigrants beyond just immigrant children and their parents; repealing three- and 10-year ban policies, which prevent immigrants who once resided in the country illegally, left voluntarily and wish to come back legally, from doing so; and expanding the Affordable Care Act to include coverage for undocumented immigrants.
Integration of undocumented immigrants not only contributes to the founding principles of America, O’Malley said, but promotes economic growth.
“If we want to get wages to go back up, I believe that one good way to do that is to get 11 million of our neighbors out of the shadow economy and onto the books in the open American economy to make wages go up for all Americans,” he said
O’Malley referenced an estimate by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) in 2013 that estimates that inclusion of 11 million immigrants would increase work productivity, resulting in an increase in average wages equivalent to $250 per household.
The CBO wrote: “Once productivity gains and higher capital levels materialize – all skill groups would see higher wages as a result of enacting the Senate bill, with real wages rising by the equivalent of $250 annually for the median household, in today’s dollars. Commonsense immigration reform will also increase wages and productivity for immigrants themselves.”
Numbers aside, “it’s also about our values,” O’Malley said. “The enduring symbol of our nation is not the barb-wired fence, it is not for-profit detention camps on our border; the enduring symbol of our country is the Statue of Liberty and we need to act like it. “
Jose Perales, Director of Operations for the Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity, said this issue not only represents the fabric of democracy, but of Catholicism as well.
“The message we heard is that it is a moral issue, it is an issue that very well aligns with the social justice mission of a Vincentian mission, and so we think it’s the right thing to do,” he said.
Read questions asked to O’Malley during a Q&A session:
President and CEO, Illinois Restaurant Association
Q: “What do you see is the connection between immigration reform and economy and if you become president, what will you do to pass comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship?”
A: “New American immigrants can imbue our nation with their energy, their willingness to take entrepreneurial risk, their work ethic. You want to talk to somebody that believes that the American dream is still alive, and real and true and with tremendous promise? Talk to a new American immigrant.”
Founder, Syrian Community Network
Q: “As president, what would you policies be towards refugees, and how will those policies make us safer as a nation?”
A: “If we erect barriers, if we start going down the path of slamming our door in the face of refugees, or applying a religion test, saying we’ll take Christians but we won’t take Muslim Syrians, we play right into (ISIS’) hands.”
CEO, Alivio Medical Center
Q: “If you become president, what is your plan to provide healthcare to all?”
A: “One, we need to get more people covered, we need to get more people covered . . . The second way is that we need to move from putting the profitability of big institutions at the center of the equation, and instead put wellness at the center of the equation.”
Student at the Illinois Institute of Technology
Biomedical engineering major
Q: “Will you make higher education accessible nationwide, and, specifically, how would you?”
A: “My father went to college on a G.I. Bill, my daughters went to college on a mountain of bills . . .To govern is to choose, and we’re the only nation on the planet that’s chosen to saddle our kids with this amount of debt . . . I have set a goal, one of 15 strategic goals for our country. . .one is to make debt free college a reality again in the United States in the next five years.”
The Resurrection Project, Leader
Q: “What executive action will you take to protect people like me from deportation?”
A: “I met with a family . . . two of their daughters came here from Mexico, they’re DACA recipients, the 13 year old, who was born here and is a United States citizens, but she said to me, with tears running down her face, she said to me ‘everyday I go to school with the fear that I’ll come home and the door will be open and my family will be gone.’”
President and Co-Founder, North American Institute for Mexican Advancement
Q: “Why are some candidates portraying us as criminals and gangbangers? Please tell us, what would you do to dispel this whole debate while running for president, and what will you do as president to create the best business environment for immigrant entrepreneurs?”
A: “I can’t go into the psychological analysis as to why it is that Donald Trump says what he says, and what sort of fears and phobias are gripping people who find it appealing to scapegoat others, but I will tell you that I intend to speak to that proven model of economic growth which is including more people and tapping fully into the energy brought to our country by new American immigrants.”
Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights
Q: “As president would you create a partial fee waiver to allow working, poor immigrants to naturalize and would you sponsor a national, volunteer-led drive to promote naturalization, and as a presidential candidate, would you be willing to come to some of our naturalization workshops?”
A: “The answer to all of those questions is yes.”