Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley on Trade, Immigration Reform, and U.S. Competitiveness


O'Malley discussed the importance of Latin America to U.S. trade, as well as how U.S. immigration reform can improve competitiveness.

We believe that our future is very closely connected to opportunities and the rising standard of living in Central and South America.”

In a conversation with Special Advisor for 100,000 Strong in the Americas Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley discussed his views on trade, immigration reform, and how immigrants impact U.S. competitiveness. Townsend noted that talking about policy with governors is important, since “what is happening in this country is at the state level.”

“One of the most obvious connections in terms of economic ties between our state and our neighbors in Central and South America is the port of Baltimore,” said O’Malley.  Around 10 percent of exports at this port are destined for these two regions, and “we can do even more,” O’Malley noted. In 2009, the state government implemented a public-private partnership to expand the port’s size; the port is “our lifeblood,” he added.

Maryland companies are doing more to expand global trade, even small- and medium-sized enterprises. O’Malley also increased the number of international trade missions during his second term. “We believe that our future is very closely connected to opportunities and the rising standard of living in Central and South America,” he added. Trade with Latin America can help create jobs, said O’Malley, but the United States can also learn from the region, such as sustainable energy practices in Brazil.

On immigration reform, O’Malley explained his view that policy changes will bring economic benefits to the United States. “I believe that immigration and the arrival of new Americans is an energy that recharges our creative battery as a people,” he said. “We believe that policies of inclusion…help build innovation and the creative class.”

Maryland was the first state in the country to pass a DREAM Act, legislation that benefits undocumented youth. “We passed the DREAM Act because inclusion is good for creating jobs and opportunity,” O’Malley explained. He added: “[W]hat we hoped we would be able to do is to show it’s possible to have a rational conversation about immigration reform.” The state also has a large number of foreign-born professionals: 25 percent of scientists and 20 percent of mathematicians living there were born abroad.

On the federal level, O’Malley expressed hope that reform will pass. “Perhaps the passage of comprehensive immigration reform might even be the first sign that our polarized fever is breaking in the House of Representatives,” he said. Immigration reform would help sustain and strengthen social security, improve GDP, and elevate middle-class wages, O’Malley added. “Immigration could very well hold the key to those things,” he said.

O’Malley highlighted the fact that immigration reform is “a compelling business case.” Reform could mean an additional $150 billion in federal revenues and $60 billion in state revenues, he said and, without reform, the United States is losing money and jobs every day. Asked about visas for graduates of advanced degree programs in science and technology, O’Malley said it was important for business leaders to have a voice in the immigration reform debate. In Silicon Valley, for example, business leaders’ top policy priority is immigration, he said.

Watch Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley's remarks at the 43rd Annual Washington Conference.