‘Smug Self-Interest’: The Atlantic Denounces Donald Trump’s Low-Death, High-Wage Border Policy

donald trump wall
AP Photo/Alex Brandon

The Atlantic magazine posted a 30,000-word sermon against former President Donald Trump’s border-enforcement policy — while ignoring the realities of federal law, democratic politics, labor economics, and the subsequent spike of deaths among President Joe Biden’s migrants.

“Smug self-interest wrapped up in humanitarianism,” quipped Jessica Vaughan, policy director at the Center for Immigration Studies.

The magazine laments the Trump administration’s 2017-2018 policy of “separating children from parents,” as more than 5,500 parents were sent to courts and jails without the children they brought to the border because they choose to violate U.S. border laws.

But the article carefully downplays the reality that careerists in the D.C. swamp helped the migrants use their children to get through the border, via former President Barack Obama’s Flores loophole.

After spending almost 30,000 words dissecting Trump’s policies, the article offers a few, passive-voice paragraphs that hide the huge, expected, planned, and tolerated humanitarian damage of Biden’s migration inflow in 2021 and 2022, Vaughan said.

Biden’s officials are offering jobs to migrants if they first separate from their families and risk their lives — as well as their children’s lives — by taking the unofficial-but-approved deadly treks to the United States, Vaughan said. That baked-in “structural feature” of Biden’s immigration policy, Vaughan said, is ignored because the Atlantic‘s author and editors are:

exploiting the suffering of children so that they and their friends and political allies can maintain a [Biden migration] system that results in more child suffering … It is intellectual dishonesty, it’s selective outrage, it is grotesque — it is a way of deflecting moral responsibility for the [current] suffering of the migrants.

Doctors Without Borders reported in August 2021 on the lethal results of Biden’s refusal to enforce the border laws:

“I saw at least 10 dead bodies in the jungle,” recalls 19-year-old Angel. “But the worst is the people who get left behind—people who cannot climb the mountains or who slip in the rain and mud. It is a route where nobody waits. You see people sitting down, injured, who might have been there for days, waiting for death.”

“This is a nightmare with 1,001 demons,” says 40-year-old Oscar, who is from Colombia but was living in Bolivia. “I saw a child get dragged down the river when he let go of his parents’ hands. I have seen dead bodies, drowned, four of them. I have smelled corpses decomposing in the ravine.”

The article is not intended to be a careful, even-handed, costs-and-benefits analysis of Trump’s policies, Vaughan said:

It’s a campaign to define the legacy of Trump’s policies on immigration, to gin up distaste for any other politician who would dare to revisit these policies … [and] it’s a fight for moral authority — they want to convince the public that their version of reality is is both true and moral.


The policy of Extraction Migration is central to the U.S. economy. The policy extracts human material — migrants — from poor countries and uses the migrant workers, renters, and consumers to shift wealth from ordinary people to billionaires and Wall Street.

This policy of labor inflation makes it difficult for many ordinary Americans to get marriedadvance in their careers, raise families, or buy homes.

Extraction migration slows innovation and shrinks Americans’ productivity, partly because it allows employers to boost stock prices by using cheap stoop labor instead of productivity-boosting technology. The policy undermines employees’ workplace rights, and it widens the regional wealth gaps between the Democrats’ big coastal states and the Republicans’  Heartland and southern states. The flood of cheap labor tilts the economy towards low-productivity jobs and has shoved at least ten million American men out of the labor force.

But the pro-migration groups insist their preferred policy is just the way the world works, Vaughan said. In their view, “Illegal migration is a force of nature and that we should accept it [and] it is not our policies that are drawing people here,” Vaughan added.

This extraction migration economic strategy is endorsed by the Atlantic, which is owned by the pro-migration widow of Silicon Valley billionaire Steve Jobs. His heir, Laurene Powell Jobs, uses his money to lobby for more migration and to portray this economic transfer as a moral imperative.

“I started getting more and more active around immigration reform because this was such a waste of lives, such a waste of potential, such a waste for our country not to have the human capital that we developed,” she told NBC in 2013.

“We’re using arts and culture and a communications strategy because this goes beyond politics and a legal strategy and moves into American culture and identity,” the multibillionaire heiress told MarieClaire.com in 2018.

Unsurprisingly, the Atlantic article declines to follow the money through the immigration debate.


Trump got elected because of his popular promise to stop illegal migration.

He presented the policy as a cultural issue, and that framing was eagerly accepted by his donors, the left, and the establishment media.

But migration is the twin brother of outsourcing. Both are used by investors to spike stock values by minimizing payroll costs. Their ambition wrecked much of middle America, hollowed out cities and towns, impoverished white and black families, and pushed hundreds of thousands into early drug deaths.

Ambitious, media-savvy Trump recognized that the devastation was a Golden Key to the White House. No politician in Washington wanted to acknowledge the key, so Trump picked it up from Washington’s sidewalk.

But Trump immediately allowed himself to be pushed, pulled, and flattered towards other issues, principally, winning a tax break for the donors who fund the establishment wing of the GOP.

In 2016, 400,000 people arrived at the border. Because of Trump’s campaign rhetoric, the number quickly fell to 300,000 in 2017.

But the number climbed back up to 400,000 in 2018. That failure damaged a core element of Trump’s legitimacy, and his obvious choice was to push the number down by vigorously enforcing the criminal law’s penalties against illegal migrants.

So Trump’s deputies drafted plans to prosecute all migrants as they illegally crossed the border.

This “Zero Tolerance” plan was intended to break the coyotes’ conveyor belt — migrants going north and loan payments going south — by preventing migrants from getting the U.S. jobs they needed to repay their smuggling debts owed to coyotes and cartels.

Trump had one huge advantage: his deputies did not need new laws from the pro-migration legislators in Congress. Existing laws — 8 U.S.C. §§ 1226(c)(1), 1231(a)(2), and 1231(a)(1)(A) —  say the attorney general “shall take into custody,” “shall detain,” and “shall remove” aliens who break the border laws.

The Migrants

The article portrays the migrants as passive and pitiable victims amid the drama.

But the migrants are rational and were already one step ahead of Trump’s deputies. They were bringing their children up to the border to trigger little-recognized catch-and-release laws.

This legal maneuver exploited the 2015 expansion of the 1997 deal by a pro-migration judge with President Bill Clinton’s pro-migration deputies. The 2015 update with Obama’s deputies required border agents to release children brought by illegal migrants in 20 days — long before overworked judges had time to deport a migrant who claimed asylum. Obama’s deputies then began releasing migrants with children as soon as they asked for asylum.

The catch-and-release policy minimized the economic risks of migration because it shows rational migrants they could quickly repay the mortgage loans needed to hire coyotes. “I had [to] use him like a passport to get here,” one migrant told a reporter who asked about the migrant’s three-year-old son. “I am here because of him.”

Trump’s deputies knew the migrants were using their children to get through the border. But they had their 2016 mandate to protect that border, and their boss repeatedly declared that “if you don’t have borders, then you don’t have a country.”

Trump’s deputies were not going to allow the cartel-aided migrants to deflate the U.S. superpower by simply bringing their children to the border.

The Swamp

The federal Extraction Migration economic policy is guarded by the careerists in the D.C. establishment.

Washington, D.C.’s, revolving doors allow these careerists to migrate back and forth between government agencies, lobbying firms, congressional offices, media outlets, universities, and advocacy groups, including those set up by Powell Jobs and her wealthy friends on the West Coast investment sector.

Their careers — and their children’s futures — depend on other careerists, so they have a massive hidden incentive to fiercely defend their collective’s privileges and power.

Since 1990, this corps of careerists has helped the government’s immigration strategy transfer trillions of dollars in value from working Americans to Wall Street. The strategy includes the vigorous enforcement of laws that allow migration, the lax enforcement of laws that curb illegal migration, and the careful creation of non-laws that allow yet more migration.

These careerists also understand that the Money does not tolerate any attempt to reduce migration. The article quoted one careerist as saying that immigration “is a career killer. … You can’t solve it. All you’re gonna do is piss everyone off.”

The Atlantic blesses these people as “moderates” throughout the article. Trump called them “the swamp” — and the swamp’s creatures pulled each other into numerous jobs throughout his administration.

The article describes the swamp’s massive resistance to Trump’s democratic mandate:

Some members of this group came from a tight-knit community of national-security wonks who had occupied the lower rungs of leadership in the Department of Homeland Security when it was first established. Now mid-career and entering middle age, they had stayed in close touch; at [George W.] Bush-alumni events, they could usually be found huddling about cybersecurity or anti-terrorism issues. They were not particularly hawkish on immigration by the standards of Trump’s GOP. Among this group was Kirstjen Nielsen, a senior policy director at the Transportation Security Administration upon its founding, who was selected to “sherpa” John Kelly, the president’s nominee for DHS [Department of Homeland Security] secretary, through his confirmation process.

Kelly, Trump’s first homeland security chief, had very little interest in protecting Americans from cheap-labor migration, according to the article.

Kelly “explained [in 2014] that the mass migration of children and families seeking asylum in the U.S. was not a threat to national security,” the Atlantic said. Migration was best treated as a logistics issue, he asserted: “The crush at the border would continue to build unless jobs became more plentiful, and violence less rife, across Central America.”

Elaine Duke was another career official who took over the DHS when Kelly became Trump’s chief of staff: “The majority of [Elaine] Duke’s staff were moderates. At this point, many of them told me, they still believed that [the] idea for separating families nationally was so outlandish that they didn’t take it seriously.”

Kirstjen Nielsen was the careerist who replaced Duke at the DHS, and the article favorably spotlights her support for large-scale migration and weak enforcement:

Nielsen said she decided to speak to me for this story “because the border and immigration situation in this country is heartbreaking and is only getting worse.” She said that it is up to Congress to reform our immigration laws in a way that allows people who need to come to the United States to do so legally, and for the laws to be fully enforced in a way that is humane.

The article hints at the close cooperation between the establishment’s people in government and in the media, including the Atlantic‘s author, who then worked for the establishment New York Times:

As [DHS chief Kirstjen] Nielsen debated these [enforcement] proposals, my sources at DHS alerted me to their existence. Once I’d confirmed the details, The New York Times published my report in December 2017, which included the story of a father and his 1-year-old son who had already been separated.

The article sidelines the deep hostility by Democrats — and by many GOP politicians — to Trump’s migration policies. Those other D.C. powers were determined to prevent any cuts in migration — legal or illegal — and they spent most of Trump’s term championing the interest of migrants and U.S. employers, not of American employees.

In the second half of the 30,000-word article, the author gradually collides with the realization that D.C.’s opposition to Trump’s border plans contributed to what she describes as separation “catastrophes.”

Trump’s top deputies, especially Steve Miller and his allies, worked hard to exclude Duke and other careerists from their planning for the border enforcement campaign.

“There were times when we were having meetings where we would specifically say, ‘Keep HHS [the Department of Health and Human Services] out of it; they’re just going to babble and cause problems,'” one of Miller’s allies told the Atlantic reporter.

The hidden standoff between the swamp and Trump’s deputies left the border agencies unprepared for the logistics of their enforcement plan. “The records show that almost no logistical planning took place [with HHS] before the policy was initiated,” the Atlantic reported.

The Damage

The article ignores the economic and productivity gains from Trump’s enforcement of the border law, even though a large share of those gains went to the lower-income blue-collars formerly championed by the establishment left.

But the article spares few adjectives or verbs in describing the cost to migrants of the federal government’s chaotic, poorly planned, schizophrenic, and fractured enforcement of the nation’s popular border law.

The article repeatedly showcases quotes from migrants, such as, “They ripped her out of my arms while she clung to me,” “I didn’t know if he was alive, dead, anything,” and “[Federal] officers told me that I was never going to see my child again.”

The article tracks the growing number of children who were separated from their migrant parents: “5,569: Minimum number of separated children as of January 20, 2021, according to government records.”

The text includes several stories from the migrants, such as an unlucky father-and-daughter pair who gambled on Obama’s Flores loophole but lost when Trump’s staff began to enforce U.S. law:

Recently, I called Nazario Jacinto-Carrillo, a 36-year-old farmer from the western highlands of Guatemala whom I first wrote about in 2018. Back then, with his field barren and the price of crops stagnant, his family had been straining to survive on the $4 a week he brought home during harvest season. Most days, he and his wife went hungry; some days, his two young children did too. They were destitute and felt unsafe in their community. So that spring, he and his 5-year-old daughter, Filomena, set off for the United States. A “coyote” guided them to the American border near San Diego. All they had to do was walk across.

Things didn’t go as planned. As six Border Patrol agents surrounded them, Filomena grabbed onto one of Nazario’s legs, as did another girl her age with whom they were traveling. The girls screamed as the agents pulled the three apart, one of them holding Nazario by the neck. Nazario eventually agreed to be deported back to Guatemala because, he said, a federal agent told him that if he did so, Filomena would be returned to him within two weeks.

D.C.’s furious fight over migration policy in D.C. did chew up the father and daughter  — even as the federal government and the pro-migration investors did nothing to aid the investment and economic trade that would help the family and millions of others:

When I called Nazario again recently [in 2022], his children were still hungry and his family still felt unsafe … When I asked him if Filomena, now 9 years old, thinks back on what she experienced in the U.S., he handed her the phone so she could answer herself. She eked out a few words that I couldn’t understand and then went silent and handed the phone back to her father.

“Sorry,” he told me. “She’s crying.”

But Nazario’s family is lucky compared to the thousands of people who have died since Biden restored the policy of Extraction Migration.

Biden’s border with Mexico is now the deadliest land crossing in the world, according to a United Nations group, the International Organization for Migration. “More than 1,238 lives have been lost during migration in the [north, central and south] Americas in 2021, among them at least 51 children,” the group’s July 1 report said.

Many additional Biden migrants have died as they traveled through Panama’s jungles:

Many other migrants are also raped on their way to the border, as the cartels and coyotes rake in vast profits from Biden’s policies.

The death toll also includes many children, each of whom is separated from their parents forever. For example, Guatemalan teenager Juan Wilmer Tulul Tepaz died in a smuggler’s truck in San Antonio, Texas, on June 27, according to PlazaPublica, a website in Guatemala:

“Yes, yes, he is dead”, were the words that [his father] Manuel Tulul was able to outline after looking at photographs of his deceased son to confirm … [His mother] Magdalena, on the other hand, could not say anything. She just clutched her chest and cried.

‘When a relative of Andino Caballero’s living in the United States offered to help him and his younger brother, 18-year-old Fernando José Redondo Caballero, finance the trip north, they were ready,” CBS reported on June 30:

Caballero last spoke to them Saturday morning. They told her they had crossed the Rio Grande at Roma, Texas, were headed to Laredo and on Monday expected to head north to Houston.

The deaths [in the truck] of her sons and Paz Grajeda, who was like a daughter, are devastating. “My children leave a void in my heart,” she said.

Biden’s migration is also expanding the United States child-labor workforce, which was largely ended in the 1930s.

The sending countries are deeply damaged by the U.S. government’s colonialism-like policy of extracting poor workers, consumers, and renters to juice the U.S. economy. Plaza Publica reported from the rural village of Tzucubal, five hours distant from the capital city:

The children, says teacher Antonia Ixtoz, no longer come to school because they say that it is of no use to them, that their families have no money and that they have to help their parents. Their perception is that studying is a waste of time because they see that people who have graduated end up going to the United States.

Antonia has been a primary school teacher for 11 years in Santa Catarina Ixtahuacán and one of her main battles is trying to convince her 11 or 12 year old students not to emigrate. “I have a job and I barely have enough money but I’m not leaving because maybe I can convince a few kids to stay here,” she says.

The U.S. invite to migrants “means that the [poor countries] are losing workers, potential business owners, and people who have a stake in their country and in their communities,” Vaughan said. As young people accept Biden’s invite, “[other] people just give up and come to the United States — and the loss of this human capital is never quite compensated by the remittances that flow back,” she added.

That Extraction Migration policy pulled a 13-year-old into the San Antonio truck. The Associated Press reported:

Wilmer’s father, Manuel de Jesús Tulul, could not stop crying Wednesday …Tulul said [13-year-old] Wilmer did not see a future for himself in a town where modest homes were built with remittances sent from the United States. He wanted to help support his three siblings and have his own house and land some day.

But The Atlantics staff is blase about Biden’s vast damage done to migrants, Vaughan said.

“Extraction Migration starts with migrants leaving family behind. … It’s a structural element,” she said, adding:

People choose to separate themselves from their families because they think there’s going to be a benefit to it. The elite supporters of mass migration find that sort of family separation to be acceptable. [Most of] the kids who are left at home in Central America and raised by their grandparents and then. When their parents live [and work] illegally in the United States to pay a smuggler, the [kids] are separated from their home environment and put at great risk to come here illegally [via the UAC loophole used by migrants’ kids]. They don’t seem to have a problem with that kind of deliberate family separation that goes on routinely by the migrants themselves.

The death of migrants is also built into the government’s support and coordination with the illegal migration organized by coyotes and cartels, she added:

It’s a structural element in the same way that drug traffickers know that they’re going to lose some of their [drug] product because some of the smugglers and mules will be arrested. They also know that they’re going to lose some of their human product as well.

In contrast to the safe delivery of legal migrants through airports, the government’s undisguised welcome for illegal southern migration “is a deliberate [federal] policy with a predictable outcome” of death for many migrants, Vaughan said.

The Atlantic article does describe the death of one migrant when he was separated from his child by Trump’s deputies:

The father of a 3-year-old “lost his s—,” one Border Patrol agent told The Washington Post. “They had to use physical force to take the child out of his hands.” The man was so upset that he was taken to a local jail; he “yelled and kicked at the windows on the ride,” the agent said. The next morning, the father was found dead in his cell; he’d strangled himself with his own clothing.

In July 2021, Doctors Without Border posted a migrant’s story of mass deaths on her officially approved trek to Biden’s welcome:

 The Darién Gap is a dangerous, inhumane route. It is a route on which only God saves you, but it is not a route of God. It is a route where families have to split up, even if you don’t understand why. It is a fight for survival.

The more days spent in the jungle, the greater the risk that you will die; you will be killed or bitten by a wild animal or a snake. They say that so many people have passed through there, it is now a road. But it is the opposite; it is a worn path with a risk of your slipping and dying. People with broken bones are left behind; those who cannot make it to the end are abandoned.

It is worth noting that Biden’s 2021 immigration advisers included at least one person who was on Laurene Powell Jobs’ pro-migration payroll.

The damage caused by Biden’s migration does not matter to the Atlantic’s staff, or to most of their readers or their elite-minded peers in D.C, Vaughan said:

The impacts on ordinary Americans and their quality of life are irrelevant to the people who are making these policies and to the people who are reading these stories [in The Atlantic]… They’re indifferent to the impact on Americans, they’re indifferent to the displacement of Americans from jobs. They’re indifferent to the depression of their wages because they benefit from lower [labor] costs of servants and services, and they’re indifferent to the transformation of schools and neighborhoods because they don’t live in those neighborhoods and their kids don’t attend those schools.

“They’re part of the elite class of Americans that benefit from mass migration,” she added.

But 30,000 words is a long article, so the writers and editors allowed Trump’s staff a few paragraphs to champion their cause. Thomas Homan, who served as an enforcement chief under Obama and Trump, told the Atlantic, “The goal wasn’t to traumatize. … The goal was to stop the madness, stop the death, stop the rape, stop the children dying, stop the cartels doing what they’re doing.”

Trump succeeded.

He failed in 2017, failed again in 2018, and failed spectacularly in 2019 when one million migrants crossed the border. But he finally shoved himself past the shocked careerists, strongarmed Mexico with threats of economic sanctions, and throttled cross-border migration down to 253,000 people in 2020.

In 2021, Trump was on track to force migration numbers down to roughly 150,000 migrants, to force more wage increases and more labor-saving investments in Americans’ workplaces.

But on January 20, 2021, Biden restarted the swamp’s policy of Extraction Migration. Roughly two million migrants have since crossed the southern border and into Americans’ blue-collar workplaces and communities — not counting the thousands of migrants who died on the way North:


Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.