Martin O'Malley
J'accuse: Democratic presidential candidate Martin O'Malley speaks at the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner in Des Moines, Iowa October 24, 2015. He says that his Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders can’t lead with “principle” and his campaign has attacked Clinton for her evolving views on immigration. REUTERS/Mark Kauzlarich

Is Hillary Clinton progressive enough for Democrats on immigration? Presidential candidate and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley doesn’t think so, telling MSNBC neither she nor Bernie Sanders “can point to leading with principle” when it comes to immigration and other issues. In particular, supporters and staffers of his campaign have criticized Clinton on immigration. O’Malley supporter and former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer leveled his own discontents with Clinton over her opposition in 2007 to driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants. Spitzer argued in a conversation with Maggie Haberman of the New York Times that when immigrants needed her support, Clinton was always on the fence.

“It was a politically tough issue,” Spitzer told the Times. “It didn’t poll well, but there was no ambiguity about what was right. And if you look at where we are now as a nation on this very issue It’s the law of the land, I think, in California, a slew of states, and it’s not controversial because people know it’s right and it works. But at the time it was controversial. And because it was controversial she hemmed and she hawed.”

Clinton is now squarely in support of immigrant driver’s licenses. Clinton campaign spokesperson Christina Reynolds says that her position has been consistent.

“As she said in 2007, she believes the long-term solution is comprehensive immigration reform, but given Republican obstruction, we can no longer wait for that,” Reynolds told the times.

This week, incoming Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan pledged that would not pursue comprehensive immigration reform. Hillary for America Latino Outreach Director Lorella Praeli immediately released a statement.

“Republicans continue to try and block the President’s immigration relief for 4 million people, and yet, continue to offer no legislative solution,” Praeli said. “They continue to be the only obstacle to passing​ a common sense immigration reform bill through Congress, and as a result, millions of families are living in fear or facing deportation.

“This must stop. Hillary’s position is clear: she will protect, expand and renew the executive actions of President Obama and will continue to fight for common sense immigration reform.”

Conservative Republicans disagree or course. Ryan called Obama’s relief for 4 million people a breach of trust and executive law writing. Immigration reform, we observed earlier this week, is pretty much dead.

Immigration activist, meanwhile, still think that there’s room to negotiate the priorities of the 2016 Democratic candidates. Here’s a message posted by the Dream Act Coalition, mocking Hillary Clinton’s early campaign outreach to undocumented immigrants.

The photo juxtaposes an image of Clinton on her blackberry (while Secretary of State in Oct. 2011) and her policy position (as Senator in 2007) with an image from a roundtable discussion she held with young undocumented migrants (Dreamers) near the beginning of her campaign in 2015. Flip-flops, "chanclas" hang in front.

Objective? Hardly -- this group’s founder, Cesar Vargas, was recently tapped to work for the Bernie Sanders campaign. But these statements capture a sincere disagreement about which candidate immigration activists should put their support behind.

Dueling Immigration Plans

The battle now turns to the Presidential election in 2016 which, as of yet, isn’t even between Democrats and Republicans. It’s inside the parties, with conservatives deciding between collected centrists (Kasich, Bush) on one hand and fiery deporters on the other (Trump, Cruz).

Ryan is merely a vessel of the house, perhaps why O’Malley for President Spokeswoman Gabi Domenzain criticize both him and Clinton.

“It's easy to slam Republicans, but harder to put forward proactive ideas. And Secretary Clinton still has not put forward any immigration plan whatsoever,” Domenzain wrote.

"We cannot allow the fate of millions of families to fall prey to political football or to whims of states' rights,” she continued, in reference to Hillary’s past positions. “Secretary Clinton should join Governor O'Malley by proposing a concrete plan to ensure that New Americans will, in fact, be safe in her Administration.”

Hillary Clinton did release a plan of sorts at the beginning of Hispanic heritage month, just ahead of the first Democratic debate. The four-point plan offers a suggestion of how Clinton might operate immigration reform. The O’Malley campaign contends that their detailed seven-page white paper/policy statement makes a stronger statement on immigration reform.

"Governor O'Malley has the most progressive, bold, and comprehensive plan to fix our inhumane immigration system,” Domenzain said in her statement, adding that “he is the only candidate with a proven track record standing up for New Americans regardless of polling."

O’Malley has certainly fought his campaign with little regard to polls. Each candidate must not only tell pro-immigrant voters what they would like to pass in their wildest dreams, but how they plan to get it done.

Immigration groups have criticized Obama for not placing immigration high enough on his list of legislative priorities, putting immigrant on the policy backburner until his second term. It wasn’t what he wanted that was a problem, but what he was willing to give up -- and that wasn’t healthcare reform or gender pay equality.

O’Malley is clearly winning the first state of policy chicken that might get him support among the party’s base. But does he have the chops to deliver on these promises and make into, let alone through, a national campaign?

Current Democratic candidates have spent little time on what they’d give up to get immigration passed. Clinton says "elect more Democrats" (to Congress). O'Malley says "forge a new consensus." Sanders says "political revolution."

Meanwhile Latino activists -- Praeli included -- are voting with their feet, leaving their posts at immigration groups (she held a top spot in another group, United We Dream) to join Clinton and Sanders campaigns. If O’Malley wants to win those activists over, he will need to show them not just a dream policy, but a pathway to victory.

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