Washington State AG Sues Motel 6 for Giving Guests’ Personal Data to ICE Agents

Washington state's attorney general has filed a lawsuit against Motel 6, alleging the national hotel chain instigated a corporate policy in 2015 of providing immigration enforcement agents with guests' personal data based on their national origin, including those with familiar Latino names, to determine if they were wanted by the division of Homeland Security.

The lawsuit filed in King County Superior Court last Wednesday states that some or all of the information the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents were seeking included the room number, name, names of additional guests, guest identification number, date of birth, driver license number, and license plate number. ICE's usual practice was to come to Motel 6's reception desk and request the guest. The receptionist would then print out the list and give it to the ICE agent, along with a "law enforcement acknowledgment form" for the agent to sign, acknowledging receipt of the guest list.

The agent would then review the list and identify individuals of interest to the immigration agency. The complaint states that Motel 6 staff observed the agents as they identified those guests, by circling names that were Latino-sounding. On a number of occasions after reviewing the guest list, ICE agents arrested or detained Motel 6 registered guests.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson acknowledged, "Motel 6's actions are disturbing, and they are unlawful." The AG said at least six Motel 6 locations in the state, all in the Puget Sound region and corporate-owned, provided the information without guest's knowledge or consent, The Associated Press reported. Ferguson added that Washington's Supreme Court makes it clear that guest-registry information is private, and Motel 6 violated the law each time it gave out private information.

Motel 6 corporate responded in an email statement saying, "In September, Motel 6 issued a directive to every one of our more than 1,400 locations, making it clear that they are prohibited from voluntarily providing daily guests lists to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)." The franchise company emphasized that it takes this matter very seriously, and will continue to fully cooperate with the Office of the State Attorney General.

The legal action against Motel 6 arises out of the "unfair, deceptive, and discriminatory practices of Motel 6 Operating L.P. The company operates at least eleven corporate-owned motels and fifteen franchise-owned locations in the state of Washington, the lawsuit states. It owns and operates over 1,400 motels nationwide, with more than 105,000 rooms, in the United States and Canada.

From June 17, 2015 to May 14, 2017, Motel 6 disclosed the personal information of at least 9,151 of its guests registered at Washington motels to ICE agents, without requesting a search warrant. Motel 6 had previously engaged in a similar policy or practice in other states, including Arizona and Rhode Island. Guests were never informed that their presence at the motel and their personal information would be provided to the federal immigration agency.

The Inquirer Daily News, Philly.com reported last September that immigration attorneys in the Phoenix area had become the site of a troubling string of immigration arrests. And the Phoenix New Times, stated that employees at two Motel 6 locations may have been sending guest information directly to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Motel 6 said on Twitter and Facebook that when they became aware of it, it was discontinued.

The two Motel 6 locations that were involved were in "predominantly Latino neighborhoods, not far from Mexican bakeries and restaurants. Both motels were corporate-owned, not franchised. When one guest was arrested by immigration officials, they learned that he had shown the front desk clerk his only form of identification, his Mexican voter ID card. Agents did not reveal how they were able to "nab him."

Motel 6's privacy policy, which is posted on its website, states that Motel 6 is "committed to safeguarding the privacy of the personal information that we gather." And it says, "From time to time, we may disclose your personal information. We will always endeavor to make that disclosure in accordance with applicable law." Its privacy policy does state that "Motel 6 may disclose guest registry information to law enforcement agencies pursuant to a court order or in compliance with any applicable law, regulation, rule, or ordinance."

The complaint lists five causes of action, alleging violations of the Consumer Protection Act and National Origin Discrimination in a Place of Public Accommodation. The Attorney General is seeking civil penalties of up to $2,000 per violation.

Motel 6, founded by William Becker and Paul Greene, has been in operation since 1960, charging $6 a night. Motel 6 began advertising on radio, featuring the voice of writer and commentator Tom Bodett, who gave it the tagline, "We'll leave the light on for you."

In 1990, the company became a subsidiary of French hotel company Accor S.A. At that time it expanded into franchising, growing from approximately 500 locations to 1,100. The Blackstone Group later acquired Motel 6 and its Studio 6 brands in October 2012, and G6 Hospitality, the brand's management company was established.

Past scandals haunt Motel 6

Last August, G6 Hospitality Property LLC, owner of Motel 6, ended another well-publicized scandal. The company agreed to settle a human trafficking lawsuit brought by Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer. The motel chain agreed to pay $250,000 over allegations that one of its locations was a base for human traffickers, drug dealers and gang members, according to prosecutors.

Los Angeles police had made more than 60 arrests at a Motel 6 in Sylmar neighborhood. Feuer was quoted saying in a CBS report, "We allege this has been used as a base for which known gang members and drug dealers had operated. We allege that there was prostitution happening at this site—pimps and prostitutes both—and we allege it was a base for stolen goods, for distributing drugs like meth and cocaine and heroin."

As part of the settlement, Motel 6 agree to require guests to provide valid photo identification, hire security guards and post signs in the lobby about human trafficking. The company also agreed "to give Los Angeles police access to its guest list and visitor logs, as well as give officers access to remotely monitor the motel's security cameras," CBS reported.


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Janet Sparks