Mayorkas denounces GOP attacks on infant formula at border facilities as ‘repugnant’


McAllen, TX – Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has strongly denounced the link that some Republican lawmakers have drawn between the national infant formula shortage and the availability of infant formula at migrant detention centers along the US-Mexico border.

“We take care of the basic needs of the people in our care. We take care of the basic needs of babies, and that includes infant formula,” Mayorkas told CBS News during an interview near the Texas border on Tuesday. “The connection between meeting our humanitarian and legal obligation to these babies and a supply problem inside the United States is false and repugnant.”

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

Nicole Sganga

Conservative outrage over the availability of infant formula at border facilities first surfaced last week after Congresswoman Kat Cammack, a Florida Republican, posted photos juxtaposing an alleged stockpile of infant formula at a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) processing site and a half-empty store. shelf.

“This is what America looks like for the last time,” Cammack wrote, using a line she repeated during several Fox News interviews this week.

In one such interview, Cammack said “no one is saying we shouldn’t have (prep) for babies at the border,” but suggested, without citing evidence, that the Biden administration was giving the prioritizing the distribution of formula for migrant babies amid the national shortage.

Several conservative politicians echoed Cammack’s statements, including Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who accused the Biden administration of being “happy to provide formula milk to illegal immigrants” as American parents struggled find formula milk.

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There is no evidence that the national formula shortage is linked to the distribution of formula to migrant babies detained at the U.S. border, Cammack says clarified she does not try to do.

“I have also repeatedly said that even if supplies were diverted from the border to US store shelves, the Biden formula crisis is so massive that the contents of these warehouses would do little to relieve the incredible shortage,” Cammack said in a statement to CBS News.

Nor is there evidence that the Biden administration prioritized migrant babies over U.S.-born children in terms of formula distribution.

The nationwide formula shortage follows a major recall under the Similac, Alimentum and EleCare labels and supply chain challenges arising from the pandemic. Bacterial infections in infants drinking formula at an Abbott Nutrition plant in Sturgis, Michigan, first prompted the February recall. Two babies died of bacterial infections, while others were hospitalized.

To address the shortage, the Biden administration announced an expansion of formula products which can be purchased with the benefits of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC). The White House is also partnering with manufacturers to boost the import of formulas from overseas.

President Biden promised reporters Friday that there should be “a lot more formula” on store shelves in “a few weeks.”

Dr Pritesh Gandhi, DHS chief medical officer, said the US government has a legal obligation to provide age-appropriate food and water to migrants, including babies traveling with their parents, during their journey. detention in the United States.

“But above all, there are important American values ​​that we have to follow. We’re talking about children. Young children and babies,” said Gandhi, who is a pediatrician.

“We have a public health imperative, a medical imperative and a values ​​imperative to provide appropriate food and water to those in our care, just as we do to every other child in this country,” he said. continued Gandhi.

The US government has routinely provided formula milk to migrant infants being treated along the Mexican border for years, under both Republican and Democratic administrations.

A landmark court settlement known as the Flores Accord, approved by a California federal district court in 1997, requires the federal government to provide migrant children with basic necessities, including “access to toilets and sinks, drinking water and food, if necessary”.

CBP rules enacted in 2015 require officers to provide migrants with age-appropriate food, including “infant formula and baby food.” Legal experts also claim that the US Constitution would prohibit the government from withholding food from migrant babies detained in the United States.

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“The due process guarantee in the Fifth Amendment requires that detained immigrants be treated no worse than a person held in prison awaiting trial. This includes the requirement that the government feed those in its custody” said Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, senior policy adviser at the American Immigration Council.

The number of minors processed along the US-Mexico border is also significantly lower than the number of babies born in the United States. More than 3.6 million babies were born in the United States in 2020, according to government data.

In April, nearly 55,000 migrant parents and children traveling as families entered detention at the US border, according to government figures, which do not indicate how many of the minors were babies. Additionally, US border officials processed 12,221 unaccompanied children, most of whom are historically teenagers.

Neha Desai, one of the lawyers representing migrant children in the Flores court case, said withholding formula would be a violation of the settlement. But she stressed that the care of migrant children should not be politicized.

“To suggest that detained babies are given formula at the expense of other babies in this country is morally repugnant and factually inaccurate,” Desai said. “Moreover, it is a deeply disturbing reflection of the state of politics in this country.”

Mayorkas on Tuesday echoed Desai’s sentiment.

“I think immigration policy has been highly politicized for too long, and its politicization is more extreme now than it has been in the past,” Mayorkas said.

Zoe Christen Jones contributed reporting.


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