The hotel chain Motel 6 routinely gave federal immigration agents guest lists with personal information that it used to make arrests, according to a lawsuit filed on Wednesday by Washington’s attorney general.
At least six Motel 6 locations in the state provided the information to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents — some on a near-daily basis — without any reasonable suspicion, probable cause or search warrants, the lawsuit charges. Agents would then single out guests by their national identity, at times circling “Latino-sounding” names on the list, according to the court complaint.
At least six guests were detained at or near the motels in the state of Washington as a result of the practice, Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in a statement. Four Motel 6 locations in Washington were responsible for turning over the information of more than 9,000 guests, the lawsuit alleged, a number Ferguson’s office said it expected to increase significantly as information emerged through the lawsuit.
In a statement on Wednesday night, Raiza Rehkoff, a spokeswoman for Motel 6’s parent company, G6 Hospitality, pointed to a directive the company issued in September against the practice, in response to news reports in Arizona.
“Motel 6 takes this matter very seriously, and we have and will continue to fully cooperate with the Office of the State Attorney General,” the statement said.
Filed in state Superior Court on Wednesday, Ferguson’s complaint sketches out the informal policy he said facilitated the release of the guest information at Motel 6 locations.
ICE agents, who are tasked with arresting people who are not legal residents for deportation, would be given a guest list from the hotel’s receptionist, along with a form to sign confirming the lists’ receipt. The roster included information such as guests’ driver’s license number, room number, date of birth and license plate number.
At one location, “ICE agents visited the motels early in the morning or late at night, requested the day’s guest list, circled any Latino-sounding names and returned to their vehicles.”
The guest list practice at some Motel 6 locations dates to at least 2015, according to the lawsuit, which alleges the company violated the Consumer Protection Act, as well as state laws against discrimination based on national origin. The attorney general’s office is hoping to recoup civil penalties of as much as $2,000 per guest whose rights were violated.
The attorney general’s office said it was prompted to investigate after the local news report about similar practices at Motel 6 locations in Arizona in September. The Phoenix New Times reported that ICE agents made at least 20 arrests at two Motel 6 locations in a period dating to February 2017. After the outcry sparked by the report, the company apologized and issued the directive to its more than 1,400 locations “that they are prohibited from voluntarily providing daily guest lists to ICE.”
Though the company said it was a local issue, Ferguson said his office’s investigation had shown that not to be the case.
According to the Columbian, a newspaper in the southern part of Washington, one woman believes that her father, Ramon Flores-Garcia, may have been deported because of the practice. Flores-Garcia, who had lived in the United States for about 20 years, was detained by ICE agents on Valentine’s Day last year after he was stopped near a Motel 6 location where he was staying, the newspaper reported.
The Washington Attorney General’s office cites a state Supreme Court ruling that found guest registry information was private and not subject to random searches.
ICE, which is not a party to the lawsuit, said that as a matter of practice, it does not comment on the “source of its enforcement leads.”
“The agency’s immigration enforcement actions are targeted and lead driven, prioritizing individuals who pose a risk to our communities,” said a statement distributed by spokeswoman Danielle Bennett. “It’s worth noting that hotels and motels have frequently been exploited by criminal organizations engaged in highly dangerous illegal enterprises, including human trafficking and human smuggling.”