DES MOINES, Iowa — Sitting in a crowded church basement, Democratic presidential candidate Martin O'Malley touted his recently released immigration platform, calling for amnesty and healthcare for all illegal immigrants as well as a new White House agency to handle immigration.

Asked about Hillary Clinton's recent push on immigration, the former Maryland governor stated that he hadn't seen enough of the other candidates' plans on the issue to pass judgment but left no doubt that he believed he was at the forefront.

"I haven't seen her plan or any of the other candidates' plans," O'Malley said. "I can tell you from my part I intend to lead with policy initiatives and ideas that serve our national good … and I believe that immigration reform is one of those things we must do to get wages to go up again. One of the biggest drags you can have on wages is having an underground economy."

In Maryland, O'Malley made it easier for illegal immigrants to attend college, along with other legislation. Today he argues that by bringing 11 million people out of the shadows, American wages will go up. He often calls illegal immigrants "New Americans."

"This is a political challenge. In the past we doomed ourselves to failure by treating immigration as if it is some political check-off," O'Malley said.

Only two dozen people, not including media and those running the event, came out to see O'Malley Thursday, but those who did attend could be seen clapping and nodding in agreement throughout the 50-minute discussion.

"I think he's pretty darned with this assessment and ways of dealing with it," Iowa resident Tom Leffler said. "I think the other candidates haven't addressed it as fully as Governor O'Malley, but we'll see."