WASHINGTON _ Attempting to further capitalize on his immigration record, 2016 Democratic hopeful Martin O’Malley on Wednesday promoted immigration reform as a way to improve wages for all Americans.
“How are you going to get wages to go up if you allow 11 million people to live in a shadow economy?” O’Malley asked at an event sponsored by the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
He further said immigration needs to be talked about as a national economic and security priority “not for this group or that group, but for us” as a country.
O’Malley committed to addressing immigration during his time in office if elected, but only would go so far as to say he hoped to make it happen within the first 100 days he is in the Oval Office.
Obama pledge in 2008 to take up a comprehensive immigration reform bill in his first year, an unkept promise that was used against the president in 2012.
Immigration was one of a range of issues O’Malley addressed in his first public event since declaring on Saturday that he is running for president.
In the almost one hourlong discussion, O’Malley also took subtle swipes at the Obama administration and was evasive in answering a question about what some see as a velvet gloved treatment of his chief rival Hillary Clinton in the campaign.
Asked if he was “Ready for Hillary,” O’Malley said he and other candidates have reason for running and “now the public gets to decide.”
Although the Obama administration often points to economic gains under Obama, O'Malley said "we need to get our economy functioning again."
He was most animated in discussing the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal and “the secrecy with which it was thrust upon us.” Obama has won fast track authority for the agreement, giving him the authority to negotiate it and holding Congress to only an up or down vote with no amendments or filibustering of the agreement.
O’Malley said the North American Free Trade Agreement between the U.S., Mexico and Canada led to dislocation and loss of jobs and devastation in Mexico and hurt small communities. A good trade deal “would level the playing field without diminishing our standards for labor and workers and our standards when it comes to the protection of the environment,” he said.
Javier Palomarez, USHCC president, reminded O’Malley that his chamber supports the trade pact and asked him to agree that it contains protections for labor and the environment.
But O’Malley declined to go along, saying he’d let Palomarez know when he’s had a chance to read the agreement.
“’When you have a secret deal and the only people who get to see it are the great captains of corporate America who have more cash than they’ve had in a long time . . . and now we are told ‘trust us’ on the secret agreement that we are not allowed to read as a people before our representatives have to fast track it, it’s not the way our country is supposed to work,” O’Malley said raising his voice.
The Republican Party issued a statement saying O'Malley's policies while he was governor of Maryland hurt families and small business.
The event was another example of the elevated struggle among the presidential campaigns to win the increasingly valuable Latino vote that voted 2-1 for Obama in 2012 and made up about 11 percent of people who went to the polls.
Next week, Hillary Clinton plans to be in Las Vegas and speak to the National Association of Elected and Appointed Officials conference, which she announced earlier Wednesday.