What Haley Barbour Didn’t Tell Fox News: He Lobbied For Mexico On “Amnesty”

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Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour made the case Sunday on Fox News that his career as a high-powered federal lobbyist for domestic corporations and foreign governments would be an asset if he ran for President in 2012.

I can tell you what we did when I was there. We represented Switzerland. We represented Macedonia because the Clinton administration asked us to because of what was going on in the Balkans. But I am perfectly glad to look at the clients that I worked with when I was there. But let me just make this very plain. I’m a lobbyist, a politician, and a lawyer. You know, that the trifecta. And I am willing to have my record in front of everybody.

Barbour may be eager to showcase his record, but one of Barbour’s foreign lobbying clients could cause him some troubles in the 2012 Republican primary, if he decides to run. According to a Justice Department filing by Barbour’s former lobbying firm, The Embassy of Mexico decided to retain Barbour’s services on August 15, 2001, to work on, among other things, legislation that would provide a path to citizenship for foreigners living illegally in the United States—what opponents of immigration reform call “amnesty.”

“Haley Barbour and I will lead the BG&R team,” wrote Lanny Griffith, Barbour’s former business partner, in the filing. According to subsequent filings, Barbour’s work included “building support in the legislative branch for passage of a bill related to Section 245(i) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.” As part of that work, Barbour’s firm arranged meetings and briefings with “Senators, members of Congress and their staffs, as well as Executive Branch Officials in the White House, National Security Council, State Department, and Immigration & Naturalization Service.” Barbour’s firm charged Mexico $35,000 a month, plus expenses.

At the time, Mexico was seeking an extension of a provision that allowed undocumented immigrants living in the United States to receive legal visas or green cards without returning to their country of origin, provided they pay an additional fine. In practice, the provision generally helped out undocumented family members of legal immigrants or undocumented immigrants who were eligible for visas based upon certain job skills. Without the provision in place, undocumented immigrants who received legal papers had to return to their country of origin, for three or 10 years, before returning to the U.S. The Congressional Research Service estimated that an extension would benefit about 300,000 undocumented immigrants.

At the time of Barbour’s lobbying, the 245(i) effort was referred to as “mini-amnesty” in conservative circles.“This amnesty loophole allowed aliens who broke our laws to pay a $1,000 fine and go to the head of the line in front of prospective immigrants who complied with our laws,” opined Phyllis Schlafly, founder of the Eagle Forum, in a 2002 column.
Among the other supporters of extending 245(i) was President George W. Bush, who had called for an extension of the provision before meeting with then-Mexican President Vincent Fox in 2002. The Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted out the extension, but in the post-September 11 atmosphere, the extension failed to win approval in the Senate. The late Sen. Robert Bryd, D-WV, led the charge to sink the measure. “Reviving the 245(i) provision reopens another crack in the system through which a potential terrorist can crawl,” Bryd said, in a speech on the Senate floor on March 18, 2002. “It is lunacy—sheer lunacy—that the president would request, and the House would pass, such an amnesty at this time.”

The 245(i) provision expired in April of 2002. Since then, Barbour has maintained his support for providing a path to citizenship for those immigrants who are now living in the U.S. illegally. Last year, in an interview with the Hoover Institution, Barbour laid out a view of immigration that sounds entirely consistent with the work he did in 2001 and 2002 for Mexico.

I don’t know where we would have been in Mississippi after Katrina if it hadn’t been with the Spanish speakers that came in to help rebuild. And there’s no doubt in my mind some of them were here illegally. Some of them were, some of them weren’t. But they came in, they looked for the work. If they hadn’t been there — if they hadn’t come and stayed for a few months or a couple years — we would be way, way, way behind where we are now. . . . A lot of it is just common sense. And common sense tell us we’re not going to take 10 or 12 or 14 million people and put them in jail and deport them. We’re not gonna do it, and we need to quit — some people need to quit acting like we are and let’s talk about real solutions.

Whether such arguments play well among the Republican primary electorate is another matter altogether.

Here’s the video of Barbour’s comments last year:

Correction: The original post said the documents were filed with the State Department. Foreign Agent Registrations are, in fact, filed with the Justice Department. The post has been corrected.

Update: For a screen shot of one of the relevant filings, see here.

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