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Martin O’Malley is targeting Latino voters

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Former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley is making a special effort to target Latino voters during the first week of his presidential campaign, appearing on the Spanish-language television channel Univision, offering interviews on immigration policy to major news outlets and speaking to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

"I believe Latino Americans, like all Americans, want the American Dream to be truthful and real,” O’Malley (D) told The Washington Post on Monday. “I believe my record speaks to my heart.”

Immigration is among the issues where O’Malley has sought to draw distinctions between himself and Hillary Rodham Clinton, the overwhelming front-runner in the Democratic primary race. While he was governor, Maryland passed its version of the Dream Act, which extended in-state tuition benefits to undocumented immigrants at public universities and colleges provided their families meet certain conditions. The state also adopted a two-tiered system that allows undocumented immigrants to get limited driver's licenses that can't be used for other purposes, such as boarding an airplane.

During the battle over the state's adoption of the Dream Act, “we met every week with O’Malley,” said Gustavo Torres, executive director of the advocacy group CASA of Maryland.

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In April, after Clinton announced her support for providing immigrants with limited driver's licenses, O'Malley said he was “glad she’s come around to that position now, too.” He declined on Monday to name specific differences between himself and other Democratic presidential candidates, saying only that “the distinctions will be made clear.”

O’Malley said that as president he would “forge a new consensus” and revisit the criteria used by law enforcement to lock-up and deport immigrants — a sticking point for immigrant advocacy groups who have criticized the Obama administration’s record number of deportations.

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In a brief interview with Maria Elena Salinas -- the well-known anchor on Univision, the nation’s largest Spanish-language news network -- O'Malley said he doesn't think any candidate can win the White House "without the Latino vote." Asked what he would want to say to Spanish-speaking voters, O’Malley replied: “Por favor,” or please. The rest of the interview with Salinas will air on Univision on Sunday.

On Wednesday, O’Malley is scheduled to participate in a question-and-answer session with Hispanic Chamber of Commerce president Javier Palomarez at the Newseum in Washington. The event is the latest in a series of forums with presidential candidates hosted by the organization, which says it represents 3.2 million Hispanic business owners.

O’Malley recently hired Gabriela Domenzain, director of Hispanic media for Obama’s 2012 campaign, as his director of public engagement. His campaign launch on Saturday included remarks from Jonathan Jayes-Green, who worked on the governor’s Hispanic affairs commission and is the son of undocumented immigrants.

Jayes-Green said his family came to the United States from Panama in 2005 and, after receiving erroneous legal advice, overstayed their visas and became undocumented. O’Malley, he added, “understands we are Americans, we just don’t have documentation yet."

Last summer, O'Malley clashed with the White House last summer over what to do with migrant children streaming over the border from Central America, accusing the Obama administration — in which Clinton had served — of being too eager to return the children.

“When refugee children arrive on our doorstep, fleeing starvation and death gangs, we don’t turn them away," O’Malley said in South Carolina in April. "We act like the generous, compassionate people we have always been.”

At his launch on Saturday, he said “the enduring symbol of our nation is not a barbed wire fence, it is the Statue of Liberty.”

When he talks about immigration, O'Malley recalls his own family history of coming to this country from Ireland. As governor, he kept an old sign in his office that says, “No Irish Need Apply.”

“I have always seen, in the eyes of my Latino neighbors, the eyes of the great grandparents I never met,” he said on Monday.

John Wagner contributed to this report.