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baby formula shelves

Portions of a baby formula display shelf were empty at a Walmart grocery store in Orlando on May 8, 2022. (Photo: Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Texas Gov. Abbott's Solution to Formula Shortage? Let Migrant Babies Starve

One ACLU attorney declared that every child, "regardless of whether Gov. Abbott and Border Patrol agents consider them 'our child' or not, deserves food and love."

Jessica Corbett

Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott was widely condemned Thursday for his joint statement with the National Border Patrol Council complaining about the Biden administration feeding migrant children in U.S. custody amid a national shortage of infant formula.

"I can't come up with the words to describe how despicable and inhumane this is."

"Gov. Abbott and NBPC are literally demanding that the government lock babies in cages and then starve them of the sustenance they need to survive," tweeted Carl Takei, a senior staff attorney at the ACLU. "I just... I can't come up with the words to describe how despicable and inhumane this is."

"I'm especially blown away by the explicit contrast this statement sets up between 'our children' (who are vulnerable, precious, and deserve survival) vs. the not-our-children who deserve to starve in our baby jails," he continued.

"*Every* child, regardless of whether Gov. Abbott and Border Patrol agents consider them 'our child' or not, deserves food and love," Takei asserted. "We should be shutting down these cages, not turning them into even more horrific places."

Abbott and the NBPC's statement frames the federal government feeding children in custody as "yet another one in a long line of reckless, out-of-touch priorities from the Biden administration when it comes to securing our border and protecting Americans," adding that "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."

Some critics of the statement highlighted that the governor—who last year signed into law one of the most controversial abortion bans in the United States as part of a nationwide effort by the GOP to crack down on reproductive freedom—presents himself as "pro-life."

"Abbott infamously signed a bill into law last year that bans abortion at six weeks ...and incentivizes citizens to spy on and sue each other to enforce it," Caitlin Cruz wrote for Jezebel. "But there's nothing pro-life about suggesting that we should let babies in America starve if they don't have the right legal documents."

"Abbott knows he must keep up the heat as the state party turns more toward Trumpism and authoritarianism," she added. "Migrants and immigrants of all ages are the perfect boogeymen. First, they take their jobs; now they want to take food out of babies' mouths, while also forcing women to carry their pregnancies to term. The hypocrisy is so thick I am choking on it."

Noting that other right-wing figures—including GOP Reps. Kat Cammack (Fla.), Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.), and Troy Nehls (Texas)—have made similar comments in recent days, HuffPost's Elise Foley similarly wrote:

The right has demonized undocumented immigrants for years, and the U.S. has a disturbing record of neglecting or mistreating children in its care. In one of the most infamous examples, former President Donald Trump intentionally split children from their parents in an attempt to dissuade immigrants from coming to the United States. For years, Republican lawmakers have blocked efforts to grant legal status to undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as kids. Republican politicians have suggested immigrant detention centers, including ones that lock up children, are too nice.

The right's claims about baby formula for undocumented kids fit into the narrative that Democrats are encouraging unauthorized immigration by not being harsher to undocumented people. Stephen Miller, a former senior adviser to Trump who championed many of that administration's harshest immigration policies, said the Biden administration was "diverting scarce formula to subsidize mass illegal immigration."

While Republicans try to blame the Biden administration for the current formula crisis that stems from a February recall, progressives like David Dayen at The American Prospect argue that "the shortage is a manifestation of the same problems we've seen with the supply chain, made worse by monopoly."

President Joe Biden on Thursday met with formula retailers and manufacturers to discuss the issue, and the White House announced new actions to address it—including "cutting red tape to get more infant formula to store shelves quicker," increasing imports, and calling on the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general to "crack down on any price gouging or unfair market practices."

The Food and Drug Administration—which on Tuesday provided an update on its moves in response to the shortage—"will, in the coming days, announce specific new steps it is taking concerning importing certain infant formula products from abroad," according to a White House fact sheet.

"We absolutely recognize the frustration that American families are feeling right now," a senior administration official told reporters on a call Thursday. "And that's why the president has acted to direct the administration to pull additional levers and take additional action to make more supply available as quickly as possible. He's leading with action, not words. And that's the package of announcements you're seeing today."


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