A statement from Texas Governor Greg Abbott condemning Joe Biden’s administration for providing baby formula to migrant children in detention centres has faced widespread criticism, accusing the Republican of politically motivated anti-immigrant rhetoric during a nationwide formula shortage.
“Our children deserve a president who puts their needs and survival first – not one who gives critical supplies to illegal immigrants before the very people he took an oath to serve,” the governor said in a joint statement with the president of a union representing border patrol agents.
The governor’s statement follows similar remarks from Republican officials like Georgia congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, who accused federal agencies of sending formula to “illegal mothers and their babies” at the US-Mexico border, rhetoric that has echoed across right-wing media.
A recall of formula produced at a Michigan manufacturing facility – along with a Covid-19-fuelled supply chain issues – has made formula difficult for families to find, or subject to purchase limits in stores, after manufacturers shut down and warehouse stocks were recalled but not replaced. US formula is largely monopolised, with stringent regulations on imports; shortages from the recall are compounded by demand among a handful of companies relying on the same fragile supply chain.
President Biden has called on federal agencies to help address the shortages, including easing rules that manufacturers must follow for their products to be eligible under the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, or WIC, which supports low-income families.
Manufacturers have produced more formula within the last four weeks than in the same period immediately prior to the recall, according to an administration official.
“Instead of working for a solution where ALL babies can be fed, Republicans like Greg Abbott are trying to divide us by creating dangerous and false narratives and demanding that formula be denied for immigrant children,” said immigration advocacy group United We Dream. “It’s shameless.”
Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, senior policy counsel with the American Immigration Council, said the governor “apparently thinks Biden should starve babies locked in Border Patrol detention centers. And to be clear, the amount of baby formula used at the border is infinitesimal compared to the national demand.”
“I get that it’s politics all the way down, but if you’re going to hold babies in immigration detention, it sure seems like you have to feed them, too,” said University of Texas School of Law professor Steve Vladeck.