Haley Barbour’s Pro-Immigration Past Catches Up With Him

The GOP presidential aspirant has never been an enforcement hardliner, actually.

By Julianne Hing Feb 14, 2011

No one would confuse Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour for an immigrant rights crusader. But he’s not an immigration restrictionist hardliner either.

Back in September he said in an interview with the Hoover Institution that Latino immigrants to the Gulf Coast post-Katrina were instrumental to recovery work. He began by saying that his first priority regarding immigration reform would be to "secure" the country’s borders. Then he said something quite striking, not just for a Republican but for a member of either party these days: 

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 or deport them. We’re not going to do it, and we need to quit–some people need to quit acting like we are and let’s talk about real solutions.

Now comes a blast from the governor’s past (via Swampland) revealing that Barbour was on Mexico’s payroll back in 2001. He was paid $35,000 a month to help extend a "mini-amnesty" provision that would allow some 300,000 undocumented immigrants in the U.S. to get visas or green cards without what’s called "touchback," which requires that people return to their country of origin for anywhere from three to 10 years before they can get their papers.

How will these revelations affect Barbour’s rumored presidential aspirations? The real question is whether the GOP can stomach a candidate who wants to tackle some kind of legalization measure.

Don’t mistake Barbour’s Mississippi for a haven for immigrants though. His state is in plenty of turmoil. It’s considering laws that mimic Arizona’s SB 1070, would fine employers who hire undocumented immigrants and would outlaw "sanctuary cities." And don’t mistake Barbour for a champion of racial justice. He spent the holidays back-peddling from a remarkable statement that, when thinking about Jim Crow Mississippi, "I just don’t remember it as being that bad."