Former Gov. Mike Huckabee

A lingering controversy over the role former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee played in establishing a Mexican consulate office in Little Rock financed by taxpayers and local businesses continues to follow the Republican presidential candidate’s campaign, even as he enjoys a surge in polls.

Critics in Arkansas contend Huckabee worked with some of the state’s most prominent and politically powerful businesses to draw illegal immigrants to the state to accept low-paying jobs.

Huckabee strongly denied the charges in a telephone interview with WND yesterday.

This week, as WND reported, Rasmussen Reports added Huckabee to its daily tracking of top tier GOP presidential candidates following a surge that pushed him past former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney with the support of 13 percent of likely voters nationwide. In Iowa, a University of Iowa poll released Monday showed Huckabee surging to a virtual tie for second place in the key primary state with Rudy Giuliani at 13 percent.

One of Huckabee’s Arkansas critics, long-time border-security activist Joe McCutchen, told WND that Freedom of Information Act documents he obtained show unusual business practices and possible improprieties in a 2006 Huckabee decision to attract a Mexican consulate to Little Rock.

Space in an Arkansas government facility was leased for $1 a year to the Mexican government to establish the Mexican consulate until a permanent Mexican consulate facility could be built, at the expense of Arkansas citizens and corporations.

McCutchen charges that Huckabee made the deal with Mexico in order to attract illegal immigrants into the state to work in politically connected Arkansas businesses seeking to exploit low-cost immigrant workers.

“Huckabee is an open borders multi-culturalist who put the will and needs of Arkansas corporations before the needs of Arkansas citizens and taxpayers,” McCutchen charged.

In his telephone interview with WND, Huckabee insisted his major goal in establishing a Mexican consulate office in Little Rock was to assist Arkansas companies in export-import business with Mexico.

He also contended the Mexican consulate in Little Rock would make it easier for Arkansas to determine that immigrants had legal status to work in the state.

“Wal-Mart is the largest private sector employer in Mexico,” Huckabee told WND. “We also have a lot of small manufacturing companies you’ve never heard of that make things that are then used in Mexico in manufacturing in Mexico.”

Huckabee explained that there were two basic reasons his administration wanted the Mexican consulate office in Little Rock.

“First, we wanted to accommodate the business that was increasing between Arkansas businesses and Mexican businesses,” he said. “Second, if people were going to come to Arkansas, we wanted them to follow legal processes, rather than just be illegal. We wanted people to come to Arkansas and get the proper paper work and do things with a work permit and a visa. It’s so much easier to do that if you have a consulate where people can go to get proper documentation, rather than just accommodating people illegally.”

McCutchen’s accusations trace back to an Oct. 3, 2003, trip Huckabee, as governor, took with economic development adviser Robert Trevino in a state airplane to visit with Mexico’s president at the time, Vicente Fox.

During the trip, Huckabee and Trevino explored with Fox the possibility of establishing a Mexican consulate in Little Rock.

Trevino served from 200-2004 as district president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, also known as LULAC, an activist group strongly advocating for rights of Hispanic immigrants in the U.S. In 2004, he was appointed commissioner of Arkansas Rehabilitation Services, the state agency that subleased the space for the Mexican consulate.

McCutchen’s claims regarding the financial arrangements of establishing the Mexican consulate in Little Rock are backed up by Arkansas government documents he has obtained in numerous Freedom of Information requests. He provided copies to WND for examination.

A “Use of Facilities” agreement signed July 7, 2006, obtained in the FOIA request and posted on McCutchen’s website shows the Mexican consulate subleased at the cost of $1 per year a facility in an Arkansas Rehabilitation Services building designated as, “Administrative office space for limited purpose.”

A July 21, 2006, memo from Trevino’s office also documents that a consortium of Arkansas corporations had agreed to “support the consular presence” during the first three years, including what appears to be the costs of building for Mexico a permanent consular facility in Little Rock.

The Trevino July 21, 2006, memo specifies that Mexico would not pick up the full costs of staffing the consulate and the mortgage on the new facility until the beginning of the fourth year, in 2010.

The memo explains the cost of purchasing the site and building the Mexican consulate would be sponsored by an unnamed group of Arkansas corporations which “have expressed an interest in supporting the consular presence during the first three years.”

WND has obtained a copy of a memo detailing a letter Arkansas Assistant Attorney General Bishop Woosley sent to McCutchen’s attorney filling in the blanks of the redacted paragraphs of Trevino’s July 21, 2006, memo.

Woosley’s letter indicated the mortgage payment for the Mexican consulate was $7,500 per month, arranged by Arkansas real estate developer Bruce Burrow.

Burrow is the chairman of the board of Burrow Halsey Realty Group, Inc. and a principle in MBC-Holdings, in Jonesboro, Ark.

WND also has obtained copies of invoices from Arkansas construction contractor Baldwin & Shell charging $60,000 for building the new Mexican consulate at 3500 South University Avenue in Little Rock.

WND also has a copy of a check from the city of Little Rock, dated June 1, indicating Baldwin and Shell were paid $60,000 as requested.

Reporting by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette backs up McCutchen’s claims and adds further details to the FOIA documents WND has examined.

On Oct. 18, 2006, the newspaper reported the $1-a-year lease offered by Arkansas Rehabilitation Services, commenting, “The Huckabee administration is giving virtually free temporary office space in Little Rock to Mexican consular officials while the Mexican government prepares to move into a permanent facility this fall.”

The newspaper noted the Arkansas Building Authority, which handles leases for state agencies, valued the temporary office space at $572 per month.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported the opening of the newly built consulate office at 3500 South University Ave. in Little Rock on April 25 in a ceremony that included the signing of a sister-city agreement with Pachuca, in the Mexican state of Hidalgo.

When asked about the business arrangements, Huckabee told WND he did not dispute any of the details regarding the Mexican consulate sublease or the private financing of the construction of the Mexican consulate’s new building.

A legal analysis on McCutchen’s website suggests Huckabee violated Arkansas law in permitting the Arkansas Rehabilitation Services to sublease its property to the Mexican consulate.

Huckabee told WND the sublease was legal “under the auspices of economic development.”

“There was nothing untoward or secretive about the sublease,” Huckabee said. “We are proud of the efforts, because we were doing two things we thought were important – building economic capacity in the state, helping our businesses have economic opportunities and at the same time helping curb illegal immigration by making sure people had a greater level of access to get legal status.”

Prominent Arkansas journalists in background briefings with WND painted a different picture, arguing Huckabee put out a subtle, but clear message to illegal immigrants from Mexico, “We wish you no ill in Arkansas. You are welcome to come here to live and to work.”

Huckabee’s message was not hard to understand, an Arkansas source explained.

“Arkansas has a lot of low-skilled jobs, including a lot of chicken slaughter houses, and the employers wanted low-pay workers,” the source said.

McCutchen put it more bluntly.

“When he was governor of Arkansas, Huckabee ran what amounted to a sanctuary state,” he told WND.

“Huckabee’s real goal was to create the Mexican consulate as a magnet to bring illegal alien workers into the state,” McCutchen said, “to benefit companies like Tyson Foods, Wal-Mart, OK Foods, Simmons Foods, George’s Farms, Inc. and a host of smaller operations who wanted to employ the illegals for their cheap labor.”

Border-security activist Kenny John Wallis, who runs the Arkansas blog Keep Arkansas Legal, agrees with McCutchen.

“Huckabee wanted to attract the illegal immigrants for the employers in the state like Tysons Foods that wanted cheap labor,” Wallis told WND.

“In a nutshell, Huckabee went to Mexico a little over three years ago to create a Mexican consulate,” Wallis said. “He then had his deputy Bob Trevino work out a deal where the Mexican Consulate was allowed office space at the Arkansas Rehabilitation Center for $1 a year. The Mexican Consulate also had mobile consulates where Mexican officials in vans went across the state helping illegal immigrants stay and work in the state.”

Huckabee denied that his goal was to attract illegal alien workers to Arkansas.

“It’s simply untrue,” Huckabee told WND. “I know for a fact that John Tyson and others diligently tried to make sure that there was legal status to their employees. That doesn’t mean that there weren’t illegal immigrants working there, often with false documents.

“Just common sense tells you a multi-billion dollar multi-national company, whether it’s Wal-Mart or Tyson Foods, is not going to intentionally hire illegals and potentially have the kinds of problems they are going to have from it, just to have somebody picking the feathers off chickens,” Huckabee told WND.

Still, in May, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported federal immigration agents arrested 21 illegal aliens during a raid on an Arkansas Mexican restaurant chain.

That followed federal immigration operations two weeks earlier that arrested more than 100 illegal aliens working at a George’s Farms poultry processing plant in Butterfield, Mo., just north of the Arkansas state line in Barry County, Mo.

Earlier this month, seven employees of George’s Farms in Missouri were arrested on federal charges of hiring illegal immigrants at the processing plant in Barry County.

George’s Farms is headquartered in Springdale, Ark.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Arkansas had a 2006 population of about 2.8 million people, including some 131,000 Hispanics, about half of whom were estimated to be illegal immigrants.

McCutchen estimates the number of illegal aliens currently in Arkansas is over 200,000.

“Arkansas has been known for low-skilled businesses, including animal slaughter houses,” McCutchen said, “businesses that tend to attract Hispanic illegal immigrants with low educational levels, willing to work for minimal pay and virtually no benefits.”

Huckabee faced criticism as governor for supporting pre-natal care for pregnant illegal immigrants and a proposal to allow illegal aliens who graduate from Arkansas high schools to apply for state college scholarships.

Huckabee defended the effort, telling WND, “Amendment 65 to the Arkansas constitution says that life begins at conception, and it is the duty and responsibility of the state to do everything possible to protect and preserve human life from conception until its natural conclusion.”

“I took an oath to uphold the state constitution,” Huckabee continued. “In addition to the civil obligation, I feel I have a moral obligation as a pro-life person to protect all life from the moment of conception.

“Besides, on a practical standpoint, we could give pre-natal care without regard to immigration status to virtually every unborn child in the state cheaper than we could afford the cost of taking care of one child born with serious birth complications,” Huckabee argued. “So for us, it was both a constitutional matter as well as a practical matter. We don’t punish children for the sins of their parents.”

In 2005, Huckabee called un-Christian, un-American and irresponsible a bill introduced by state Sen. Jim Holt that would have denied state benefits to illegal immigrants and would have required valid proof of citizenship to register to vote.

Huckabee told WND the senator’s legislation was unnecessary, because “Holt couldn’t point to illegal aliens in Arkansas who were getting benefits. It’s already against state law, and we could already prosecute any illegal aliens getting state benefits that Holt could point to.”

In June 2005, addressing the 76th annual LULAC convention in Little Rock as keynote speaker, Huckabee told the 10,000 political, community and business leaders in attendance, “Pretty soon, Southern white guys like me may be in the minority.”

Huckabee told LULAC that having their 2005 annual convention in Little Rock was important, because Arkansas had one of the fastest growing populations in the nation, and “Arkansas needs to make the transition from a traditional Southern state to one that recognizes and cherishes diversity ‘in culture, in language and in population.'”

McCutchen acknowledged Huckabee declares on his website that he now calls for closing the borders.

“But that’s 180 degrees from what he did as governor of Arkansas,” McCutchen said. “Huckabee will say anything that he thinks is acceptable. He is a dangerous man.”

McCutchen agrees with Eagle Forum President Phyllis Schlafly’s view of Huckabee, cited last week by John Fund of the Wall Street Journal. Schlafly said Huckabee has “destroyed the conservative movement in Arkansas, and left the Republican Party a shambles. Yet some of the same evangelicals who sold us on George W. Bush as a ‘compassionate conservative’ are now trying to sell us on Mike Huckabee.”

“My overall feeling is that Huckabee is a traitor to Arkansas citizens,” McCutchen stressed. “He’s a multi-culturalist who has done more to damage this state than any other governor of Arkansas. During Huckabee’s tenure, we’ve had 150,000 bankruptcies, more than all previous governors put together. We’ve lost somewhere in the neighborhood of 10,000 manufacturing jobs. He has almost doubled the size of state government in his tenure and he is not a man of the people.”

Huckabee’s campaign website lists his “number one immigration priority” as “to secure America’s border.”

Huckabee says on his website, “We need to create a process to allow people to come here to do the jobs – plucking chickens, tarring roofs, picking fruits – that are going unfilled by our citizens.”

“There’s nothing I’m ashamed of at all,” Huckabee continued. “I would be happy to accommodate the Dutch government. I went to South Korea, Taiwan and Japan to pursue trade opportunities. Any time we can bring good paying jobs to the state, or when we can help keep jobs in our state that are doing business with companies in other countries, that’s what I assumed a governor was supposed to do.”

WND asked Huckabee if he had exerted similar efforts to get consulate offices established for China or any other country with which Arkansas was doing business. He could not cite any other similar efforts.

WND contacted Burrow’s Jonesboro office for comment but received no reply.

Special offers:

“Stop The Presses: The Inside Story of the New Media Revolution.”

“Conservatives Betrayed: How George W. Bush and Other Big Government Republicans Hijacked the Conservative Cause”

Previous stories:

Pollster: Huckabee in GOP top tier

Huckabee warns fight with terror won’t end in draw

Values Voter debate now online

Huckabee wins Republican poll

‘Unseen world’ dominates GOP presidential debate

Republicans debate ‘real values’ tonight

Keyes looks to rescue GOP, announces run for president

Joseph Farah to moderate GOP presidential debate

Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.