Bohanon & Curott: Let Haitian refugees ‘have a go’ at living in U.S.

  • Comments
  • Print

Economist Arnold Kling argues there are three languages of politics in the United States. Conservatives tend to couch social conflict in terms of those defending civilization struggling against barbarism. Progressives tend to couch social conflict as those of an oppressed class struggling against oppression. Classical liberals tend to couch social conflict as those seeking freedom struggling against coercion. He argues that members of each “tribe” usually talk past one another, making political compromise—the essence of a democratic society—problematic. Each tribe digs in on its viewpoint as being both exclusively righteous and accurate. Each tends to be dismissive—indeed, often insulting and hostile—to those of the other tribes.

Media images of thousands of Haitians camping out under a bridge near Del Rio, Texas, play into these narratives. To many conservatives, people camped on the border of the Rio Grande epitomizes a breakdown of law and civilization. They fear allowing the mob to enter the United States undermines the rule of law and threatens to overwhelm local communities with new migrants who will rout local health, welfare and educational institutions, as well as place downward pressure on the wages of the lowest-earning Americans.

To many progressives, it is axiomatic that providing succor and relief to those at the border at taxpayer expense is the only humane course of action. Images of white men on horses chasing Black migrants across the Rio Grande back to Mexico horrifically repeats the tragic history of racial oppression in the United States.

Finally, classical liberals see people who have taken incredible risks hoping for freedom and opportunity. They are prevented from entering by a near-century-old policy of immigration restrictions. The migrants are simply asking for a chance, in Deirdre McCloskey’s words, “to have a go.”

We admit to being in the third camp, so here are our thoughts. First, let’s all stop vilifying one another. Progressives are not barbarians, conservatives are not oppressors, and classical liberals are not anarchists.

But second, our plea is: Let them in. In an orderly fashion. With registration and identification cards. Deport any who become public charges or break the law. Since they will be legal residents, ensure they receive the protection of law in both their physical persons and private property. However, give them no tax-supported aid or welfare benefits. Private entities are free to help them as they choose. But for heaven’s sake, let them have a go.•


Bohanon and Curott are professors of economics at Ball State University. Send comments to

Please enable JavaScript to view this content.

Story Continues Below

Editor's note: You can comment on IBJ stories by signing in to your IBJ account. If you have not registered, please sign up for a free account now. Please note our updated comment policy that will govern how comments are moderated.

One thought on “Bohanon & Curott: Let Haitian refugees ‘have a go’ at living in U.S.

  1. I am not a fan of labeling groups of people … progressives, conservatives, liberals, etc. It is far more constructive to engage in discourse that references specific behaviors of people. We learn this as a basic parenting skill … to not tell a child they are a slob, but to instruct them to pick their toys up or clean their room. So let’s consider this issue in terms of behaviors that will help not only newly arrived Haitians, but those that have recently been admitted to our nation from anywhere. I agree that registration and identification cards are a sensible place to start. That helps them navigate very basic living needs such as getting medical services, jobs, credit, housing, etc. Many will also need assistance with learning how living in America works as they are coming to a first world country from a third world country. Learning English as quickly as possible will definitely make a positive difference in their lives and the lives of their families. Getting the best jobs they are qualified to perform as quickly as possible will also be a great benefit. Helping them create a resume that focuses more on skills they possess as opposed to verifiable work experience will also be helpful. Teaching them about how to complete a job application including W2’s, I9’s, etc. will make a positive difference. The focus really needs to be on becoming employed to get weekly pay in order to start their journey here as successfully as possible, especially if as the authors above state … “give them no tax-supported aid or welfare benefits”. The assistance they will need to “get started on the right foot” will be best accomplished by faith-based groups that should seek new arrivals out in order to help them with the basics. It certainly won’t be from most government agencies that excel at “making mountains out of mole hills”. (Recall experiences with any federal agency … or the BMV as evidence of this stark reality). Also recognize that the federal government has no structure in place to assist the newly arrived migrants beyond transporting them to localities all across America … to leave local populations the important task of helping these people get a good start. It is also these same, so-called federal leaders that have failed to update and improve America’s immigration system and policies. They have demonstrated repeatedly that the federal government is not the solution for orderly immigration, as well as a host of other functions. Please also be mindful that we are a nation of immigrants from all over the world. We have an enviable history of welcoming and helping peoples from all other countries, relative to most if not all other nations in the world. We can continue to welcome and help if citizens at the local level will come alongside our new neighbors to make a positive difference in their lives.