(AP) - Walmart is not working with the Department of Homeland Security to create detention centers for migrants despite reports online claiming the two have been working together in recent years.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is, however, using a former Walmart in Brownsville, Texas, as part of its Unaccompanied Alien Children Services program. Walmart sold the building to a developer in 2016. The site currently is housing about 1,500 immigrant children, officials said.
False reports of the relationship between Homeland Security and Walmart began circulating on conspiracy websites following a viral video of Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon attempting to visit the former Walmart building in Brownsville. The senator went to the facility amid growing debate over the practice of separating families caught crossing the border illegally.
"Yes, it was a former Walmart, but Walmart has nothing to do with it now," Kenneth Wolfe, a Department of Health and Human Services spokesman, said in an email. He said no other former Walmart sites are being used to house youths as part of its program for unaccompanied children.
The false reports tie the relationship between Walmart and Homeland Security to the "If You See Something, Say Something" counterterrorism campaign spearheaded by former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. Walmart participated in the campaign, which began in July 2010, but the partnership did not involve Walmart handing over its facilities to the agency.
After Merkley's video gained traction online, Walmart released a statement saying they were deeply disturbed about the use of their former store.
"When it changed hands, we didn't know it was going to be used for," Randy Hargrove, Walmart spokesman, said.
This is part of The Associated Press' ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.