Fox News is responding to the major shortage of baby formula by focusing its viewers’ ire on a familiar scapegoat: undocumented immigrants. The right-wing network’s biggest stars are complaining that while American parents are struggling to find formula for their children, the Biden administration is lavishing the scarce resource on migrant babies in U.S. immigration detention facilities.
Let’s start from the beginning: There are infants, brought across the border to the United States through what is self-evidently no fault of their own, who are detained under the U.S. government’s control. Like all babies, they are helpless, entirely at the mercy of the adults around them. The babies need to eat. In some cases, they may be separated from their mothers; in others, their mothers may be unable to produce sufficient breast milk. Since the law and basic human decency require governments to feed people they have detained, the U.S. government makes formula available. The alternative is babies starving to death in U.S. custody.
Meanwhile, there is currently a major shortage of baby formula in the United States. There are many reasons for this shortage, including the consolidation of formula suppliers, supply chain issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, bacterial contamination that forced a recall of some formula stocks and the shuttering of a major manufacturing plant, U.S. trade policy, and the general disregard U.S. policy has for children. The shortage is a crisis for many parents, who are unable to find the food they need for their babies.
Republicans have put these two things together and decided to blame President Joe Biden for the formula shortage on the ground that his administration is providing formula to migrant infants in detention facilities. After Rep. Kat Cammack (R-FL) posted a photo of what she described as “shelves and pallets packed with baby formula” at a major border processing and detention center alongside another photo of an almost-empty formula shelf at a U.S. store, her party started running with the angle. “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,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said in a statement on Thursday.
Fox hosts, in their role as the GOP’s primary propagandists, are playing a key role in promoting this grotesque talking point. All of the network’s star hosts ran with the story on Thursday evening and Friday morning, demanding to know, as Jesse Watters put it, “Why are we feeding illegal babies ahead of American babies?" They described migrant babies getting formula when American babies can’t as something “humiliating” that should “infuriate” their viewers.
Earhardt: "Border children, illegal immigrant children, are getting formula"\n\nDoocy: "American families, there's a shortage, but if you're a migrant, don't worry, because Uncle Sam has a stash of that."pic.twitter.com/UeOXI4jNB0— Matthew Gertz (@Matthew Gertz) 1652447392
Jesse Watters: "Apparently, there is no shortage of baby formula for illegal aliens... Why are we feeding illegal babies ahead of American babies?"pic.twitter.com/RToQ0K8RyA— Matthew Gertz (@Matthew Gertz) 1652447578
Sean Hannity: "These are not people that respected our borders, our laws, and our sovereignty. Why wouldn't all of the pallets go to American families first?"pic.twitter.com/ERI8zAMT9K— Matthew Gertz (@Matthew Gertz) 1652448140
Laura Ingraham: Migrant infants getting formula is "something that will infuriate you... that alone should win the election for the Republicans in November."pic.twitter.com/7BDonutE7F— Matthew Gertz (@Matthew Gertz) 1652448294
The most charitable way to look at this argument is that the Republican politicians and Fox hosts making it don’t really want Biden to starve migrant babies to death – they are just cynically using the specter of fed migrant babies to anger desperate American parents for political gain and ratings. But the direct logical extension of it, if it were carried out, would be the U.S. government starving to death the helpless infants it has in its custody.
Reprinted with permission from Media Matters.