Washington (CNN) - Already coming under fire for his lobbyist past as he ramps up for a 2012 presidential bid, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour is denying that he once urged Congress and the Bush administration to pass legislation providing a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
Or, as a good many Republican primary voters like to call it, "amnesty."
TIME magazine reported Monday that Barbour, a co-founder of the powerhouse lobbying firm Barbour, Griffith & Rogers - now known as the BGR Group - was retained by the Mexican government in 2001 to lobby for an extension of an immigration provision that would allow undocumented workers to obtain visas and green cards. The extension ultimately died in the Senate.
Barbour was elected governor in 2003 and quit the lobbying firm, though he still receives pension payments through a blind trust.
One of Barbour's longtime political advisers, his nephew Henry Barbour, circulated a statement from the governor late Monday responding to the TIME report and rejected the claim that he supports "amnesty."
"One reason I've been successful as governor is that I'm plain-spoken and use common sense," Gov. Barbour said in the statement. "I tell people what I think, not what I think they want to hear. Before there can be immigration reform, we must secure our borders. Only after that can any reforms be achieved, and those can't include amnesty."
Barbour's advisers also released a "fact sheet" outlining what Vincente Fox, then the newly-elected president of Mexico, paid Barbour's firm $35,000-a-month to accomplish.
According to the document, Barbour and his firm worked with members of Congress on three main issues: to establish a "U.S.-Mexico Friendship Caucus," to settle water claims and "other border issues," and to improve the relationship between the two countries "on issues such as immigration" through the "Partnership for Prosperity" initiative.
BGR, though, "never advocated amnesty for illegal aliens," the fact sheet said, nor did it support any free trade agreements with Mexico.
Barbour, who has never been an anti-immigration hard-liner, used his statement Monday to call for a "responsible" guest-worker program.
"Everybody knows we are not going to put ten or twelve million people in jail and deport them," Barbour said. "Once the border is secure, we should develop a responsible guest-worker program and it can't include amnesty."