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Records contradict Mississippi governor on lobbying work for Mexico

Haley Barbour's firm listed him as a key member of the team that promoted a path to citizenship for Mexican illegal immigrants. He said Saturday that he wasn't involved.

March 23, 2011|By Melanie Mason and Maeve Reston, Los Angeles Times
  • Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour answers media questions after an event Tuesday with Republican supporters and party leaders in Carson City, Nev.
Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour answers media questions after an event… (Cathleen Allison / Associated…)

Reporting from Washington and Sacramento — Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour's assertion that he did not personally work for the government of Mexico when his lobbying firm represented the country a decade ago is contradicted by the firm's own federal filings, which describe him as a leader of the team assigned to the account.

During an appearance Saturday at the California Republican Convention in Sacramento, Barbour denied a reporter's statement that he once "lobbied for the government of Mexico on the issue of amnesty and a path to citizenship."

"Your facts are incorrect," Barbour said, adding, "I didn't do the work in the firm; one of my partners did." The Republican governor said one of the issues his firm worked on was a law that would have allowed legal immigrants to renew their visas without leaving the country, though he added, "Don't hold me to all the details."

In fact, the firm lobbied in support of bill that would have allowed illegal immigrants to obtain legal residency by paying a fine, instead of having to return to their home countries before applying for legal entry.

According to paperwork filed by Barbour Griffith & Rogers with the Justice Department, the firm represented the Mexican Embassy for 16 months, with Barbour listed as one of the key members on the account.

In an Aug. 15, 2001, letter to Mexican Ambassador Juan Jose Bremer confirming the agreement, Lanny Griffith, then the chief operating officer of BG&R, outlined a plan in which the lobbying firm would assist the embassy on several matters, including "immigration/human capital" and "treatment of Mexican citizens who cross the border."

Griffith told Bremer in the letter that the firm had "designated a team of professionals who will concentrate on your work."

"Haley Barbour and I will lead the BG&R team," he added. Griffith did not respond to requests for comment.

The embassy paid BG&R $35,000 a month plus expenses. In all, BG&R received $402,500 to represent the Mexican government between August 2001 and December 2002, according to the filings. Barbour was chairman of the lobbying firm until he became governor in January 2004.

In May 2002, according to Justice Department filings, the firm lobbied in support of "a bill related to Section 245(i) of the Immigration and Nationality Act." That provision, first created in 1994, streamlined a path to legal residency by allowing unauthorized immigrants to legalize their status in the United States, as long as they were eligible for an immigrant visa and paid an additional fine. Previously, those seeking permanent residency were required to return to their home country to get their visas.

The measure, up for renewal in 2002, was backed by the Mexican government. Then-President George W. Bush supported it as well, but the provision's detractors characterized it as a form of amnesty and said it rewarded those who broke immigration laws.

The provision was not renewed. Since then, most Republican leaders have opposed a path to citizenship. Asked his view on allowing illegal immigrants to win legal status, Barbour demurred.

"Well, look, the first thing we have to do is we have to close the border," he said Saturday. "Once we have a closed and secure, controlled border, then you can start talking about what should we do and what shouldn't we do."

melanie.mason@latimes.com

maeve.reston@latimes.com

Times staff writer Matea Gold in Washington contributed to this report.

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