Akemi Vargas, 8, cries as she talks about being separated from her father during an immigration family separation protest in front of the Sandra Day O'Connor U.S. District Court building in Phoenix, June 18, 2018. Child welfare agencies across America make wrenching decisions every day to separate children from their parents. But those agencies have ways of minimizing the trauma that aren't being employed by the Trump administration at the Mexican border. Credit: Ross D. Franklin | AP

Walmart stepped into the debate over the U.S. detention of migrant children — and their forced separation from parents — by criticizing the practice as “disturbing” in a tweet.

“We had no idea our former store would be used for such a disturbing purpose,” Walmart said in a tweet Tuesday evening, replying to a separate tweet that called for a boycott of the retailer. “We are just as shocked and disappointed as you are.”

A former Walmart in Brownsville, Texas, is one of several facilities run by a nonprofit called Southwest Key Programs Inc. that are used to hold the children of parents who have crossed the U.S. border illegally. The sites have sparked a firestorm of criticism that’s expanded to include Republican governors, European governments and former first lady Laura Bush.

The 250,000 square-foot store, which Walmart sold to a developer in 2016, is now known as Casa Padre and houses about 1,500 migrant boys. They are among the almost 12,000 immigrant children who have been separated from their parents under President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy of prosecuting all undocumented migrants, including those who mean to petition for asylum.

The company said on June 14 that it had no knowledge at the time of the sale that the building would be used for its current purpose.

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