Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and National Border Patrol Council President Brandon Judd released a joint statement on Thursday lambasting the Biden administration for providing baby formula to migrant children in U.S. holding facilities.

The issue, the men said, is that American parents are scrambling to find formula for their babies and “deserve to be put first,” the statement said.

“Yet President Biden has turned a blind eye to parents across America who are facing the nightmare of a nationwide baby formula shortage. 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 wrote.

The statement called the provision of baby formula “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. 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.”

Critics were quick to blast the statement, which KERA, a news organization in North Texas, characterized as “the latest in Abbott’s efforts to portray himself as a border and immigration hardliner leading up to his November election contest with former El Paso U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke.”

Joshua Rubin, of the migrant advocacy group Witness at the Border, told Border Report that children need nutrition. “They’re going to need to be fed and any decent human being looks for a way to feed them, not for a way to deprive them,” he said.

He continued, “Gov. Abbott has a political agenda that’s willing to punish children instead of here, in the richest nation on earth, figuring out a way to make sure all of God’s children have enough formula.”

The spark

The story began Wednesday when Rep. Kat Cammack, R-Florida, posted a Facebook Live video that talked about an abundance of baby formula at the holding facility. Newsweek quoted Cammack, who said that a Texas border patrol agent told her he’d “taken in pallets of baby formula for immigrants.”

“She said that the children receiving the formula were not at fault but expressed anger over what she described as ‘another example of the ‘America last’ agenda,” reported Newsweek, which noted that it was unable to confirm the details independently.

The article said that “Cammack also posted photos on social media that she said showed pallets of baby formula at a border processing facility in McAllen, Texas ... but a worker at the facility told Newsweek that there were no pallets of baby formula there and that only single adults are currently housed at the facility.”

Cammack also tweeted a photo she said showed shelves full of formula at the facility and empty shelves in a store in her district.

As Business Insider reported, “It’s unclear when or how much infant formula has been provided to holding facilities, or how the quantity compares to the current national shortage.”

A U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesperson told Business Insider that the agency takes seriously its legal responsibility to ensure the safety and security of individuals in 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.” Including, the statement continued, complying with “all applicable regulations for the purchase of products used” in its facilities.

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The Washington Post reported Thursday that every president in recent history — Democrats and Republicans, Donald Trump and Joe Biden alike — has been bound by and followed the same rules regarding how migrant children are treated. The Flores consent decree, negotiated by the Department of Justice during Bill Clinton’s presidency includes food, which “must be appropriate for at-risk detainees’ age and capabilities (such as formula and baby food).”

Wrote the Post’s Glenn Kessler: “The Flores settlement requires the federal government to release rather than detain undocumented immigrant children, first to their parents if possible, to other adult relatives if not, and to licensed programs willing to accept custody if no relatives are available. A 2015 judicial ruling then said the Flores settlement covered all children in immigration officials’ custody, regardless of whether they were apprehended crossing the border alone or with family.”

Rebuilding the supply

Also Thursday, the White House released a summary of the president’s conversation with leaders of two companies that manufacture infant formula, Reckitt and Gerber, and with officials from Walmart and Target. They met virtually to discuss the infant formula shortage and efforts to address it.

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The shortage began after a voluntary recall of powdered infant formula made by Abbott, which temporarily closed a manufacturing facility in Sturgis, Michigan. Four children were hospitalized with bacterial infections believed linked to formula produced in the plant; two of them died.

Reckitt and Gerber are increasing production of their baby formula to cover some of the gaps in the marketplace created by the loss of the Abbott baby formula. The company leaders said they are operating around the clock and that Gerber increased the amount of its formula available to consumers by about 50% in the last two months. Reckitt said it is supplying about 40% more baby formula compared to what it was producing during the same period in 2021.

Target and Walmart, meanwhile, talked to the president about how they planned to stock their shelves with baby formula. And the president asked how his team could help move product and make sure it reaches the communities that need it.

The White House has announced plans to:

  • Increase baby formula imports.
  • Get the Federal Trade Commission and state attorney generals to go after price gougers and those employing unfair market practices.
  • Ease restrictions so stores can stock more infant formulas by encouraging state flexibility in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children.
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