How do we know we are in an election year? Because we start to see the proliferation of absurd ideas that demonize undocumented immigrants and blame them for all the world’s problems. The latest conspiracy theory: undocumented babies are taking formula away from American babies.

Why are we taking time to explore this absurd idea, which is devoid of evidence? Because for thousands (perhaps millions) of voters who are exposed to unscrupulous media outlets, this is perceived as real.

When prejudice goes viral

It all started with a nationwide baby formula shortage. Of course, what for some is a serious social problem, for certain shameless politicians, is the perfect opportunity to spew their prejudices.

Florida Republican Rep. Kat Cammack posted a photo on social media that she said had been sent by “an agent” from the Border Patrol at the Ursula Processing Center in McAllen, Texas. The photo showed stocked shelves of powdered milk, not baby formula.

Despite this, Cammack criticized the Biden Administration saying that while American babies do not have formula, the babies of undocumented immigrants do, thus blaming them for the shortage.

This notion is so loaded with ignorance and prejudice that it is difficult to think that a decent or moderately intelligent person could believe it. However, since we are in an election year, it was taken by unscrupulous media outlets and went viral in the echo chambers that are social networks.

“Baby formula should get to Americans before illegals,” tweeted Texas Republican Rep. Troy Nehls.

Are undocumented immigrants to blame for the baby formula shortage?

Numerous factors have led to the shortage of baby formula on the market. Among them, the deaths of two babies prompted an investigation, and in February the FDA warned people to avoid baby formulas under the brands Similac, Alimentum, and EleCare, all produced by Abbott Nutrition at Sturgis, a plant in Michigan.

Additionally, the coronavirus pandemic slowed down production, complicating the supply chain. To make matters worse, there was a decision by the White House to shut down formula imports from countries such as Mexico, Chile, Ireland, and the Netherlands.

The baby formula that is in immigration detention centers makes up an insignificant portion of the high volume of national consumption.

Furthermore, the law requires the federal government to provide these resources because unlike families who can browse the internet or stores in search of formula in the midst of shortages, undocumented mothers who cannot breastfeed also cannot leave these detention centers.

Which babies deserve to eat?

None of the Republican lawmakers who joined in railing against the undocumented explained how feeding detained babies was affecting formula supplies in the rest of the country. But they still suggested these children should go without this vital food.

It is sad to see many ultra-conservatives—who brag about promoting family values and being “pro-life”— who also are lacking in values. Their slogans in support of babies don’t count when it comes to immigrants.

In the political circus that we are living in currently, logical arguments are not what drive voters to go to the polls. It is the dramatic nature and repetition of fear-laden messages against the “other.” That is the sectarian irrationality in which our democracy is submerged. The only thing left is the hope that the majority of us values the lives of babies from immigrant families and thinks that these children deserve to eat.

Find this article in Spanish here.

Diego Barahona A.

Diego Barahona A.

Periodista, editor, asesor, y presentador. De 2016 a 2019 el periodista más galardonado en Estados Unidos por los Premios José Martí. Autor del best seller: ¿Cómo leer a las personas?