Does Haley Barbour Have An Immigration Problem?

Haley Barbour is making all the moves toward a 2012 Presidential run, but his stand on immigration issues could pose a problem in the Republican primaries.

Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour was among those who garnered much attention at CPAC this year, and the speculation that he’s gearing up a run for the White House has has increased as a result. Barbour’s biggest problem in the GOP primary, though, may be his long history of lobbying in Washington, D.C., especially as it relates to the hot-button issue of immigration:

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 State 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 taking this side of the argument, Barbour was on the opposite side of many of the conservative activists whose support he’s now courting:

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.

Of course, this 2001-02 lobbying effort is only one aspect of Barbour’s immigration position that stands in contrast to the contemporary right wing. He’s long been an advocate of the “path to citizenship” approach to illegal immigration and, just last year, told the Hoover Institution that the idea that we’re going to be able to deport everyone who’s in the country illegally is simply absurd:

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.

Personally, I think Barbour is close to a sane, rational approach to this issue in his comments above. Unfortunately, those in the GOP who have tried to take this approach has become close to unacceptable among activists on the right, who seem to prefer the idea of patrolling the border in a manner that would make the East Germans jealous, rewriting the 14th Amendment, and throwing massive amounts of illegal immigrants in jail before deporting them (with or without due process, a point that hasn’t been made clear in some quarters). If he does enter the race, expect the “amnesty” label to be slapped on him fairly quickly even though the points he raises on this issue are worthy of consideration.

H/T: Oliver Willis

FILED UNDER: Borders and Immigration, Campaign 2012, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Andre Kenji says:

    Barbour´s biggest problem is his association with the Council of Conservative Citizens.

  2. PJ says:

    Doesn’t this immigration “problem” make Barbour more like Reagan? The real Reagan that is.

  3. Brummagem Joe says:

    Mr Barbour is infinitely flexible like Romney so I’m sure he’ll find a way to claim that he was a dedicated opponent of immigration reform all along. Basically Barbour is an old style Republican fixer which means he’s the ultimate pragmatist so what he’s saying makes entire sense and is essentially indistinguishable from the Obama/Democratic position. I know he’s kite flying but I doubt he’ll run for president because being a pragmatist he understands the dynamics of the 2012 election better than anyone. Impossible to predict of course but I’m increasingly coming to the view the Republicans might embrace a kamikaze candidate a bit like Goldwater in 64. Selection will be an entertaining process.

  4. michael reynolds says:

    He can compensate for his rationality on immigration by being a racist. In the math of your party, Doug, a plus 1 on race-baiting should cancel out a minus 1 on immigration.

    But I’m sure he won’t raise the marginal tax rates, so it’s all good.

  5. Michael,

    Why do you keep calling it “my party” when I’ve said more than once that I’m not a Republican?

  6. michael reynolds says:


    Because we have a two party system and you’ve said you’ve never voted for a Democrat, can’t imagine you ever would, and will absolutely vote against Obama.

    You can claim it’s not your party, but that’s just evasion. You are what you vote, and in a two party system, you are also what you vote against.

    If it quacks like a duck. . .

  7. anjin-san says:

    I heard the GOP is thinking about putting Mubarek on the ’12 ticket…

  8. kth says:

    This is somewhat academic because Barbour was never in the first tier of candidates to begin with, but: I would have to think this would damage him with just those people most inclined to vote for him. Surely Barbour’s appeal is as a hardshell cultural conservative, a stand-in for George Allen. The “competence” primary, if it matters at all to Republicans, will surely be won by Mitch Daniels. At least I’ve never heard talk of a “Mississippi miracle”. Maybe I’ve not been paying attention, and suddenly Mississippi is no longer one of the poorest and most illiterate states in the country, but I can’t imagine it’s improved much.

    There probably is an opening in the Republican race for a Southern cultural conservative who isn’t as warm and fuzzy as Mike Huckabee. And that niche could be important if a lot of other things cancel out in the 2012 primary. But I can’t think that that demo will be very receptive to someone who is pro-amnesty.

  9. Dan says:

    Barbour’s biggest problem is an uncanny resemblance to Boss Hogg.

  10. zenpundit says:

    Haley Barbour has approximately a .01 % chance of being elected president so what his position on immigration is or was, hardly matters.

    in general, as the decisive voters in a close election are the most uninformed, who make up their minds only in the last few days before the election, the GOP might consider the visual impact of running a candidate who is a late middle-age, overfed, bland, corporate lobbyist white guy who looks like he’s leaving a business lunch meeting to go play 9 rounds at Burning Tree

  11. Ben Wolf says:

    Barbour’s 24/7 Boss Hog impersonation doesn’t help him either. I can’t think of a more odious candidate other than Gingrich, but that’s only because Newt believed it perfectly reasonable to lay the wood to another woman while his wife lay in the oncology ward.