WASHINGTON – Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, in his keynote address to the Hispanic National Bar Association’s annual conference Thursday morning, called on the association’s members to help in his state’s efforts to provide pro bono representation for the large numbers of unaccompanied minors who’ve crossed the U.S. border this year to escape violence in Central America.
“When unaccompanied children fleeing violence in Central America arrive at our doorstep, it is not only for their good, but for our good and the good of the nation that our children will share with them that our nation should act hospitably and revere the human dignity and the courage that those children have possessed,” he told a crowded ballroom at the Renaissance Hotel in Washington.
O’Malley, who is considering a bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, came under fire earlier this year when he openly criticized President Barack Obama’s plan to deport many of the children back to the countries from which they fled.
“We are Americans, and we do not return refugee kids who find themselves on our doorstep back into war-torn or famine-racked places where they will face certain death,” O’Malley told reporters in mid-July. “I think we have to act like Americans.”
Since then, Maryland has accepted 2,804 children, according to the latest figures from the Office of Refugee Resettlement, the largest number of refugees per capita of any state in the country. Each is currently living with family or friends while awaiting deportation hearings.
“I’m calling on you. I’m calling on the members of the Hispanic Bar Association to be a part of this effort,” he said.
The governor went on to tout his state’s efforts to help immigrants in other areas. He cited the 2011 passage of the Maryland Dream Act, which, he says, has given the state’s 36,000 undocumented minors an opportunity to go to college. He also cited his efforts to expand access to driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants to help them find and keep work.
“We have not waited for the federal government to act in order for us to act as the compassionate and generous Americans that we are,” he said. “We believe in Maryland that our diversity is our greatest strength and that we all do better when we’re all doing better.”
The event began on a more somber tone, however, as the thirteenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks hung over the audience. Before introducing O’Malley, Miguel Alexander Pozo, the association’s national president, asked for a moment of silence for the victims of the attack. He also called for a round of applause for the troops fighting in Afghanistan, one of whom was his brother, who died in the war.