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Martin O'Malley on Latinos' Top Issues: Immigration, Education, Economy, and Healthcare

First Posted: Jul 21, 2015 05:00 AM EDT
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Martin O'Malley

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Latin Post presents "Turnout," a series that features leading politicians, government leaders and advocacy groups discussing and debating the most important issues facing the Latino voting bloc.

Listen to the "Turnout" Podcast with the Full Unedited Interview with Democratic Presidential Candidate Martin O'Malley:

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Based on Latino Decisions' latest study, more than 13 million Latinos will vote in the 2016 presidential election, and Democratic presidential candidate Martin O'Malley has made strides on connecting with the voting bloc by discussing issues with the community.

According to the Pew Research Center, Latino registered voters have labeled education, economy, healthcare and immigration as their top issues. O'Malley, former governor of Maryland, sat down with Latin Post for a one-on-one interview to discuss his platform on the aforementioned four issues impacting the Latino community.

Immigration:

Most presidential candidates have publicly said the U.S. immigration system is "broken" -- including Republican candidates Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Bobby Jindal, as well as fellow Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. O'Malley said the issue also cuts short the country's potential.

"In other words, part of the genius of our country -- the way we keep wages going up rather than down, the way we create a more robust and innovate economy -- is through a sensible immigration system that allows the best and the brightest and the most highly motivated from all over the world," O'Malley said.

"I believe that immigration reform is actually a national economic imperative, not merely something good to do for the current generation of New Americans but something that's important for our national economy and our national security," he added.

O'Malley's immigration plan includes an executive order, if elected, on his first day in the White House. According to the former Maryland governor, a key point to his immigration plan involves deferred action, which would provide undocumented immigrants immediate relief from deportation and work authorization to all eligible individuals who are covered in the Senate's 2013 comprehensive immigration reform bill (S. 744 - Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act).

O'Malley also wants to improve the naturalizing process for the millions of current legal permanent residents living in the U.S. through local outreach and education and close immigration detention centers.

During his time as Maryland's governor, O'Malley signed the state's Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, which would grant undocumented immigrant students state funding for higher education. DREAM Act opponents would later force a referendum vote regarding the bill.

The "forces of fear," according to O'Malley, referring to the anti-immigrant and conservative talk radio entertainment groups, labeled the Maryland DREAM Act as "free tuition for illegal immigrants." In November 2012, when the referendum voting closed, Maryland become the first state, by popular vote, to allow undocumented immigrants access to in-state tuition financial aid.

Congress, however, has failed to pass its version of the DREAM Act, which later resulted in President Barack Obama introducing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in June 2012 and then the Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) in November 2014. Taking into account Obama's 2014 executive actions, approximately 4.9 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S. would be eligible for work authorization and continue their education without fear of deportation.

When asked for his assessment of Obama's executive actions, O'Malley said, "I would hope that every president on this issue carries the ball as far down the field as they can. For my part, and I rather leave to others to rate the president, who I believe is a good person and I believe that he's been in a very, very tough job with probably one of the most obstructionist and difficult Congresses that we ever have."

"I hope, and I believe, that we can go further in the years ahead," added O'Malley. "There will be a new Congress up in the same time we're voting for a new president, and I believe we have the ability because of a growing consensus in the United States of America of the imperative of immigration reform -- to actually get more done, and I, as president, once we're passed these legal challenges, I intend to use the full executive authority of the president of the United States to extend DAPA and DACA to more people rather than fewer."

O'Malley also didn't mince words regarding Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's remarks toward Mexicans and immigrants.

"I think they're hateful and I think that they have no place in the public arena," said O'Malley. "When candidates, especially candidates for the highest office in the land, voice this sort of hate-filled, racist attacks against another people, I believe that we all have a responsibility to speak out against it."

He continued, "Hopefully all of the candidates of the Republican Party will eventually find the courage to speak out against it. It has no place in our country. It's beneath us as a people and if I ever had the chance to run in to Mr. Trump, I'd tell him exactly that."

Healthcare:

Further, O'Malley wants to reverse a policy that has made it impossible for New American immigrants, either waiting or hoping for naturalization, to obtain benefits of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) even if the immigrants were willing to pay for it.

"I believe that's short-sighted, unless we're willing to turn them away from emergency rooms -- why the hell would we want to do that?" O'Malley said. "It just makes it more expensive for everybody. For as many people as possible, I would hope to expand coverage of the ACA."

Since the first provision of the ACA was implemented in 2010, the national U.S. Latino uninsured rate dropped by 12.3 percentage points, which is the largest percentage rate decline compared to African Americans and whites. Also since 2010, more than 4.2 million Latinos have gained health insurance. Despite the benefits, Latinos are still the largest uninsured group.

 O'Malley was confident to reiterate his support of the ACA, noting Maryland was one of the earliest implementers to adopt a state-based health insurance marketplace exchange. The former governor, however, acknowledged Maryland expanded healthcare coverage even before the ACA's implementation, which saw 300,000 people gain medical insurance.

"I think the next horizon for healthcare is to move away from fee-for-service -- paying our hospitals and making them profitable by how many bed nights they can keep filled for the longest period of time -- and instead we need to put wellness first and move our hospitals to global payments so we can increase outcomes and decrease costs," said O'Malley, which he said has been the method in Maryland.

Economy:

Based on the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' June report, 13.4 million Latinos are "not in the labor force," which is defined as "people over the age of 16 classified as neither employed nor unemployed." While the overall national unemployment rate is 5.3 percent, the Latino unemployment rate is 6.6 percent. O'Malley recognized that the country is improving, but families are "not feeling better off."

"While month over month we're creating more jobs, the hard truth of our times is that 75 percent of us are earning the same or less than we were 10 years ago. We have to remember that our economy is not money, it is people, it is all of our people."

O'Malley's platform embraces restoring wage policies to their rightful place, keeping the minimum wage above the poverty level, overtime pay for overtime work and making it easier for people to join labor unions. Furthermore, he's called for investments in affordable housing, clean energy and mass transit.

"The American Dream is broken if wages continue to go down for another 10 years," said O'Malley.

In regards to the minimum wage, while he has hopes for a national increase to $15 an hour, O'Malley is also in favor of all levels of government, from city, county and state, to take the initiative to increase wages.

"If we had the consensus to do that on a national level, I'd like to do it in a national level, but I'm also a realist, and I realized a lot of our metro areas would get to $15 an hour before any state does," said O'Malley.

Education:

According to the former governor, he is the only presidential candidate, regardless of political party affiliation, whose state went four consecutive years without increasing college tuition. O'Malley said college tuition has been rapidly increasing elsewhere because states and the federal government have been doing less to shoulder its share of college tuition costs.

"I believe that as an American that affordable college education is one of the building blocks for an upward economic mobility, a stronger middle class and a rising standard of living for all Americans," said the Democratic presidential candidate, noting his education proposals include a universal option for debt-free public college for every American within five years and increasing degree attainment by 25 percent within the next 10 years.

O'Malley said he's called for all states to freeze tuition at their public colleges because "all states can." He also wants all Americans to have the ability to refinance their student loans, owed to the government, for lower rates.

"It's outrageous that you can finance a car or a home at a lower interest rate than you can finance a college education," said O'Malley. "Congress set that rate, Congress should lower that rate."

His education plan is not limited to college-level education but also for high school seniors. Recognizing that at least one-third of high school seniors are unprepared for entry-level college courses, the presidential candidate seeks to expand learning and dual-enrollment programs and improve college counseling access, especially for lower-income and first-generation students.

According to the Maryland State Department of Education, high school graduate rates among Class of 2014 Latinos hit their highest peak with 77.46 percent. Latino students enrolling into Maryland's higher education institutions increased between 2007 and 2013 by 94 percent.

"We're the only industrialized nation on the planet that saddles our kids with this much debt," O'Malley said. "We combine that with declining wages, it's no wonder our consumer economy isn't growing at the rate we need it to."

Ending on a Positive Note:

When asked about a campaign highlight, the presidential candidate referenced three cases. The first was the immigration roundtable with the New York Immigration Action Fund on July 14, which included undocumented immigrants from different ethnicities and stories.

"I felt like we were all doing some good for our country by giving voice to the goodness," said O'Malley, who also stated his attendance and address at the National Council of La Raza's annual conference on July 13 as a highlight.

"As well as talking to young people, because I can see we're going to a much more compassionate, connected and generous place," he said. "Our job, in the here and now, is to make sure we don't take an eight-year detour that would do some serious damage to our country and the American Dream."

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For the latest updates, follow Latin Post's Politics Editor Michael Oleaga on Twitter: @EditorMikeO or contact via email: m.oleaga@latinpost.com.

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