In a layered display of cruelty, Republican lawmakers and conservative talking heads are complaining that the Biden administration appears to have sent baby formula to the southern border in order to ensure that children who are being imprisoned in detention centers by the U.S. government are able to eat.
Using the current baby formula shortage as a political bludgeon, prominent Republican lawmakers are saying that it’s “reckless” for the administration to be providing formula for asylum seekers and migrant children, claiming that President Joe Biden is putting “America last” by choosing not to withhold formula from babies at the border — language that echoes the rhetoric of former President Donald Trump.
Rep. Kat Cammack (R-Florida) was the first to allege that the border had baby formula in stock, tweeting that a border patrol agent sent her a photo of a shelf of baby food between two shelves of snacks for older children. She also tweeted a photo that supposedly depicts a store near her home with baby food stocked on otherwise empty shelves. There is currently no proof that the photo of the baby formula was actually taken at a border facility.
“The first photo is from this morning at the Ursula Processing Center at the U.S. border. Shelves and pallets packed with baby formula,” Cammack wrote. “The second is from a shelf right here at home. Formula is scarce. This is what America last looks like.”
Soon after, several Republicans began tweeting and speaking out about the issue, essentially implying that Biden shouldn’t give border facilities baby formula and that he should instead allow babies at the border to starve. Babies at the border already face inhumane conditions and are sometimes separated from their parents; others are under the care of parents who have undergone traumatic conditions that have stopped their bodies from producing breast milk.
In a press conference on Thursday, Rep. Michael Waltz (R-Florida) blamed Biden for the baby formula shortage while also perpetuating racist stigma about drug use. “In Joe Biden’s America, it seems like it’s easier to get a crack pipe in a government funded smoking kit than it is to find baby formula,” he said.
Waltz’s statement references a long-debunked claim that the Biden administration has been giving out drug paraphernalia for free — which is false, although harm reduction groups do give out drugs and drug-related items in order to help drug users access these items in a safe environment that could help lead them to services like medical and addiction treatment.
Meanwhile, in a joint statement with National Border Patrol Council President Brandon Judd, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said, “While mothers and fathers stare at empty grocery store shelves in a panic, the Biden Administration is happy to provide baby formula to illegal immigrants coming across our southern border.” Lawmakers like Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee) and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Georgia) also joined in on the racism and xenophobia.
“Rather than having the state of Texas help mothers, Governor Abbot [sic] apparently thinks Biden should starve babies locked in Border Patrol detention centers,” wrote senior policy counsel for the American Immigration Council Aaron Reichlin-Melnick on Thursday. “And to be clear, the amount of baby formula used at the border is infinitesimal compared to the national demand.”
Indeed, the photo that launched the deluge of conservative complaints appears to show that border officials supposedly have at least 2,016 units of baby formula. But previous similar recalls of baby formula have affected millions of units, while manufacturers rake in billions of dollars from the U.S. infant formula market each year.
A report from last month found that about 43 percent of formulas are currently out of stock across the country as a result of recalls and supply chain problems. A Trump-era trade agreement currently limits imports of baby food from Canada, one of the U.S.’s most prominent trading partners. Republicans are on the attack about the issue, saying that the Biden administration should have had a plan to address the shortage.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is planning to announce increases in imports from other countries in order to address the issue, and the White House is in talks with manufacturers and grocers about increasing access to formula. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki has said that the administration is exploring all options to increase production, including invoking the Defense Production Act.
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