The Democrats just lost the most progressive candidate in history on immigration

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When Martin O’Malley was governor of Maryland, his state led the country in taking in unaccompanied minors who presented themselves at the U.S. border. He had a record of doing what the two other Democratic presidential candidates were still proposing.

He was the first candidate to propose closing immigrant detention facilities. He was also the first to declare his displeasure when U.S. immigration officials launched raids to detain parents and their children who were fleeing violence in Central America.

When O’Malley suspended his campaign Monday night after a dismal showing in the Iowa caucuses, the Democrats lost the most progressive presidential candidate in history on immigration.

“Together we all stood up for working people, for new Americans, for the future of the Earth and the safety of our children,” O’Malley wrote in an email to his supporters. “We put these issues at the front of our party’s agenda—these are the issues that serve the best interests of our nation.”

The former Maryland governor’s proposals were so immigrant-friendly that he developed a strong following among the people he called new Americans, or undocumented immigrants—who couldn’t vote for him.

“Here in Iowa, we believe we caucus with our conscience, and that’s what O’Malley supporters did tonight,” Kenia Calderon, an undocumented immigrant who volunteered for the campaign, told Fusion as she was driving to Wooly’s, the Des Moines concert venue where O’Malley was about to make the announcement.

As governor, O’Malley implemented laws that included those new Americans. Maryland was the first state to offer undocumented immigrants in-state tuition at public universities. O’Malley also pushed for and signed legislation extending driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants.

“We all remained hopeful that a miracle would happen, but unfortunately it wasn’t possible, and now we have to see what’s next,” said David Calderon, who driving to Wooly’s with his sister. The Calderons fled El Salvador when they were children.

Seasoned immigration activists also endorsed O’Malley’s presidential campaign.

“His campaign’s heart beats with ours. His immigration plan was created by us, by listening and talking to us, those that no one ever talks to,” Gaby Pacheco, a nationally recognized immigrant rights leader, wrote in an essay published on Univision last week.

During a campaign stop in Nevada last month, O’Malley was also the the first presidential candidate to propose extending temporary protected status to families who fled violence from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.

“This is not consistent with who we are as a country,” O’Malley told a Nevada Democratic Party dinner last month. “We must stop ripping families apart and once and for all put an end to these mindless deportations.”

“The answer is not to deport mothers and children who walked thousands of miles to ask for refuge,” he said.

The Calderons said they were sad to hear O’Malley’s announcement but they were still glad they volunteered for the campaign.

“We were able to turn some heads and have people question their own candidates and be more conscious of who were they supporting when they went to caucus,” said David Calderon.