“Migrants in detention centers aren’t free to leave facilities whenever they want to shop for baby formula. Legally, essential products must be provided to migrant children that the government has detained. “Facilities will provide access to…drinking water and food as appropriate,” reads the 1997 Flores settlement that addressed the treatment of migrant children. A 2015 Customs and Border Patrol document on detention standards noted that “food must be appropriate for at-risk detainees’ age and capabilities (such as formula and baby food).” These legal standards predate the Biden administration.
Nor would diverting baby formula away from immigrant detention centers ease supply chain woes in a meaningful way. Ursula—the facility Cammack singled out on Twitter—holds around 1,100 detainees. The number of American parents who rely on formula to feed their infants is on the order of millions. Though several Republican lawmakers and right-leaning news outlets are agitating about the “pallets of baby formula for all of the illegals who are crossing into the United States,” none have been able to say exactly how much formula is going to detention facilities or how often shipments are arriving.
The baby formula shortage is indeed a huge problem. About 40 percent of top baby formula brands are out of stock right now, and producers are warning that shortages could last for several months. But the shortage wasn’t caused by the government’s legal duty to feed the kids it has confined. “Much of the current shortage is rooted in a February recall of formula after a suspected bacterial outbreak at an Abbott Nutrition plant in Michigan,” explains Reason‘s Eric Boehm. And while we could re-fill those shelves with formula from abroad, tariffs and quotas “make it burdensome and costly to import the supplies that are now desperately needed.”
You can’t solve the national shortage by making it harder for undocumented parents to feed their babies. Instead of looking for immigrant scapegoats, lawmakers should tackle the trade and regulatory policies that helped create the current shortage.”