Gov. Martin O'Malley came under fire Wednesday for advocating for thousands of children entering the U.S. illegally while simultaneously trying to wave the White House off a potential shelter in Westminster, Md.
CNN and others reported that O'Malley spoke Friday with White House adviser Cecilia Muñoz and requested that the administration reconsider its assessment of a former Army Reserve Center in Carroll County. A White House official confirmed the conversation to The Sun but declined to comment on the nature of the call.
Late last week, at a meeting of the National Governors Association in Nashville, O'Malley urged compassion for the children and argued that they receive due process before being deported. The comments came as the Obama administration is seeking to alter legal protections for the children in order to expedite their removal.
O'Malley is considering a run for president and has occasionally attempted to stake out positions to the left of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who polls show currently dominates the potential field of Democratic candidates in 2016.
"We are not a country that should turn children away and send them back to certain death," O'Malley said on Friday.
Carroll County quickly pushed back on news, first reported by The Sun, that the Department of Health and Human Services was considering the site just outside of Westminster. O'Malley aides said the state was concerned about the site in part because of the reaction in the community.
"What I said was that would not be the most inviting site in Maryland. There are already hundreds of kids already located throughout Maryland," O'Malley said of his phone conversation with Muñoz in an interview Wednesday on CNN.
"Whatever the motivation was of the people at the White House that leaked it to you, I'll leave you to determine," he added.
A day after the federal health department decided against pursuing the facility, a vandal painted the words "no illeagles here" on the side of the building. State police are investigating the graffiti as a hate crime.
O'Malley aides dismissed the idea that the governor was being hypocritical by advocating for the children while opposing the Carroll County shelter. They said they have worked cooperatively with the federal government on potential sites and also pointed to a "statement of need" to be published later this month that solicits licensed providers to care of the children.
An aide said the state, along with the federal health department, is also considering another potential shelter site in Maryland but an aide declined to provide detail about that facility.
Meanwhile, the state's leading immigration advocate group, CASA de Maryland, supported O'Malley's decision to question the Carroll County site.
"When we heard about the proposed Westminster site, our immediate thought was that the only place in Maryland less hospitable to children fleeing violence in Central America would be inside the Frederick County Sheriff's Department building," said Kimberly Propeack, an attorney with the group.
"We think he is right to question why the administration would propose the most anti-immigrant locations rather than the many other parts of the state where children will be sheltered and loved," she said.