Republicans are claiming without proof that baby formula used to feed infants at immigrant detention centers is siphoning away a product in short supply and instead want "American kids" put first.
"Baby formula should go to Americans before illegals," Rep. Troy Nehls, a Republican from Texas, tweeted. "This should not have to be said."
The outrage came after Republican Rep. Kat Cammack of Florida tweeted a picture she said was sent to her from a Border Patrol agent at the Ursula Processing Center in McAllen, Texas, showing shelves stocked with baby formula.
The picture included handwritten signs reading, "Do not take."
But unlike families who can scour stores in search of formula amid the nationwide shortage, immigrants in detention centers can't leave and need the product to feed or supplement their babies, especially since some people can’t breastfeed. Medical conditions, physical trauma, and medical treatment can also inhibit a person's ability to breastfeed. And some infants are being cared for people who aren't their birth parents.
None of the Republican lawmakers explained how feeding infants in detention was affecting formula supplies in the rest of the country, but suggested they should be left without food anyway.
"You are seeing signs that you are not able to get baby formula and then you see the American government sending by the pallet thousands and thousands of containers of baby formula to the border, that would make my blood boil and I am, I am so angry about this and every American should," Cammack said in a video. "Demand that the administration take action on putting the baby formula back on the shelves for American kids and they need to secure the damn border."
Cammack's office did not respond to a request for comment.
Nehl's office declined to answer a question about whether the lawmaker wanted the administration to stop sending baby formula to the detention center. Instead, his office issued a short statement, calling the Biden administration's decision to send formula to detention centers "unconscionable."
"While parents struggle to find baby formula amid a nationwide shortage coupled with inflation, it is unconscionable that the Biden Administration is spending taxpayer dollars to ship baby formula pallets to people that are entering this country illegally," the statement says. "President Biden is once again proving that he prioritizes illegal immigrants over the American people he swore to protect. American resources should be sent to Americans first."
"This is wrong and needs to be stopped," Gary Black, Georgia's agriculture commissioner and a candidate for the US Senate tweeted.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued a joint statement with the Border Patrol Union.
"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," they said.
Customs and Border Protection, however, said providing food and safety to immigrants, including infants, was a legal responsibility. The McAllen facility alone has a capacity of 1,200 people, including infants.
CBP did not respond to questions relating to the picture released by Cammack, but an agency spokesperson said it "takes seriously its legal responsibility to ensure the safety and security of individuals in our custody."
"Ensuring migrants, including children and infants, in our custody have their basic needs met is in line with this Administration's commitment to ensuring safe, orderly, and humane processes at our border," the spokesperson said. "CBP complies with all applicable regulations for the purchase of products used in CBP facilities."
Despite CBP being required to feed the infants at its facilities, Republican lawmakers have continued to push the issue on social media and in the halls of Congress.
Immigrants have historically been targeted and blamed for the ills of the country, such as unemployment, crime rates, and, more recently, the pandemic. But the recent shortage of baby formula was caused by a mix of supply chain issues, recalls, and inflation.
Then a recall of baby formula from Abbott Nutrition's Michigan plant further depleted the supply chain after four infants became sick from a bacterial infection, including two who died.
As of May 8, baby formula supplies were at 43% lower than usual, according to Datasembly, a company that tracks retail information.
"We know the recall has worsened an already existing industry-wide infant formula shortage in the U.S. and we've been seeing and hearing the stress and despair of parents who are facing empty shelves," Abbott Nutrition said in a statement Wednesday.
The company added that it has been addressing issues that were cited by the FDA at its Michigan plant and could restart the site within two weeks.
Abbott Nutrition, which produces several leading powdered formulas, including Similac and EleCare, also said its products have not been directly linked to the bacterial infections.