- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley’s new immigration plan would extend Obamacare privileges to illegal immigrants, including those here under President Obama’s deportation amnesty, allowing them to use their own money to buy in the health exchanges.

Seeking to distinguish himself from the rest of the presidential field on immigration, the former two-term Maryland governor said he would cut back on the extent of border enforcement, allow previously deported illegal immigrants to return to the U.S., kick state and local police out of the business of helping enforce immigration laws and defend sanctuary cities.

Vowing to go further than Mr. Obama, Mr. O’Malley also said he’d release more illegal immigrants awaiting deportation and expand the current deportation amnesty to as many people as he can, dubbing them “New Americans.”

“We need to reform a system that is callous, irrational, inhumane, and unjust by providing immediate relief to millions of New Americans and fighting for immigration reform to bring our neighbors out of the shadows,” Mr. O’Malley said in laying out an eight-page plan.

Among the boldest ideas was extending Obamacare access to illegal immigrants. Mr. Obama and fellow Democrats had shied away from that during the 2009 and 2010 health care debates, fearing the political consequences.

But Mr. O’Malley said it’s bad economics to keep them out, because they’ll just end up using emergency rooms for medical care — often uncompensated costs that leave taxpayers or the rest of the health system footing the bills.

“What the hell kind of sense does that make?” Mr. O’Malley told Fusion network in an interview Tuesday.

Fusion anchor Jorge Ramos, a major figure in Spanish-language media and a crusader for legalization, praised Mr. O’Malley’s plan as the broadest yet in the presidential race.

The Democratic presidential field has made immigration an intense focus this year, with Mr. O’Malley and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton competing to outbid Mr. Obama’s already extensive efforts to win Hispanic supporters.

In announcing her own immigration plans, Mrs. Clinton had checked off nearly every item on advocates’ wish-lists.

Still, advocates said Mr. O’Malley’s plan set the benchmark for others.

“Unlike other candidates of both parties, Governor O’Malley’s immigration platform is bold and has concrete details, particularly that he will commit to executive action first year of office,” the Dream Action Coalition said in a statement. “Between his launch and his overall record and rhetoric on immigration, it is heartening to see someone play a pro-immigration counter to the Donald Trumps of the world.”

Mr. Trump, a businessman running for the Republicans’ presidential nomination, has moved the debate in the GOP the other direction, after his comments that Mexico sends rapists and criminals to the U.S. amid the flow of immigrants.

Some Republicans and most Democrats have blasted Mr. Trump. Mr. O’Malley said the comments are “hate speech” and said all candidates have a duty to speak out against them.

But Mr. Trump says he’s been misunderstood in that he’s not attacking immigrants themselves, but rather the policies that push bad elements from Mexico and draw them to the U.S.

He said this weekend’s prison escape by Mexico’s most notorious drug cartel chief is proof of corruption in Mexico.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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