In mid-March 2010, messages began circulating via e-mail and text messaging claiming that WalMart had authorized U.S. law enforcement (the Border Patrol and/or Immigration and Customs Enforcement) to enter its stores and arrest any illegal immigrants found within. Some messages have tied this action to efforts by Latino groups to organize a boycott of Walmart for a month (beginning on 20 March 2010) as a “call for the world’s biggest retailer to adopt a favorable position vis-a-vis immigration reform.” Various sources have claimed that the messages about immigration raids at WalMart stores are either spurious rumors intended to promote the boycott or a scare tactic being used by WalMart to thwart the boycott.
As the warning messages spread, additional rumors began to circulate claiming that the described raids had been seen taking place:
The message claims that WalMart gave permission for immigrants to be trapped in its stores on March 20. The message adds to support the Hispanic movement by not shopping at WalMart, and to spread the word.
Senior Pastor David Stepp at Bakersfield Hispanic Church is concerned about the affects the text message can have. “This could affect traffic in stores and East Bakersfield,” he said.
Stepp also became concerned when members of his congregation held a meeting about the text. “Panic, fear, mistrust of WalMart,” is how he described their mood.
Stepp added that he didn’t believe the text message when he first heard about it. “There were too many inconsistencies, didn’t sound right,” he said.
But the text messages have gone beyond simple warnings telling people to stay away from WalMart. The latest ones actually claim that two bus loads of immigrants were picked up from the East Hills WalMart.
As far as we know, no evidence documents any such raids taking place at WalMart stores. WalMart itself said, in response to an inquiry, that:
The rumors circulating via text message, and other means, about Walmart coordinating or supporting immigration raids in our stores are not true. These rumors are baseless and inaccurate. We think it’s unfortunate that such unsubstantiated rumors are spread.
On immigration reform, our position is clear. We believe reform is needed. We are committed to working with all interested parties — lawmakers, employers, and consumers — to make comprehensive reform a reality.
The San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium (SDIRC) also noted that it had not yet been able to confirm any accounts of the apprehension of illegal immigrants at Walmart stores:
Text messages, emails and phone calls have been circulating calling for a boycott of Wal-Mart stores because they are either actively conducting raids at the moment, or because they are “going to allow customs, or border patrol to conduct raids in and outside of the store property” starting on March 20th.
Despite these alerts, there have been no actual confirmations of any of these messages to be true.
The San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium (SDIRC) met on Monday, March 8th and discussed if anyone knew the source of these messages.
According to Pedro Rios, the American Friends Service Committee of San Diego (AFSC) spoke with ICE officials and Wal-Mart representatives, and neither confirmed that any of this was true.
The rumor may have originated with messages sent by members of the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights (GLAHR):
Shortly before the rumors spread, on Monday, March 1, the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights (GLAHR) had called for the Hispanic community to “stop shopping” for a month at Walmart stores, arguing that that company executives did not support immigration reform or Latinos, who represent much of its clientele.
In response, MundoHispánico conducted a special investigation to discover if the rumors, as well as the GLAHR statements, were true.
The alleged involvement of ICE and the police at Walmart was broadcast not only by word of mouth, but also by radio stations and cell phone text messages. This newsroom received dozens of emails and phone calls looking for information on the subject.
MundoHispánico found that several text messages were generated by people who participated in the GLAHR meeting mentioned above.
GLAHR executive director Adelina Nicholls and several volunteers from the organization, including attorney Aaron Ortiz, sent several text messages to different contacts.
Some messages specifically warned that the police had set up a checkpoint at the Big Chicken Walmart (located in Marietta).
When questioned about the information in this text message, Nicholls admitted having written it and said she was wrong to send a message without checking its accuracy.
The activist blamed the rumor on announcer Eduardo Salinas, of Radio La Ley 1080 AM
“He said on the air that he had seen this checkpoint,” Nicholls told fifty people at a GLAHR meeting.
When asked by this weekly, Salinas said he saw a roadblock (“check point”) in front of said Walmart, but almost immediately corrected himself and said it was not a checkpoint but two Cobb patrol cars stopping a driver.