Motel 6 Is Probably Not the Only Company Tipping Off Immigration Agents

On Wednesday, the Phoenix New Times broke the story that two Motel 6 locations in predominantly Latino Phoenix neighborhoods were routinely sending information about their guests to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“We send a report every morning to ICE—all the names of everybody that comes in,” one front-desk clerk told the New Times. “Every morning at about 5 o’clock, we do the audit and we push a button and it sends it to ICE.”

At least 20 arrests by ICE agents occurred at the two motels over a period of several months.

Since the story was picked up nationally, Motel 6 faced a storm of criticism, and the company released an official statement about the practice of giving information about guests to ICE on Thursday:

Over the past several days, it was brought to our attention that certain local Motel 6 properties in the Phoenix-area were voluntarily providing daily guest lists to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). As previously stated, this was undertaken at the local level without the knowledge of senior management. When we became aware of it, it was discontinued.

Moving forward, to help ensure that this does not occur again, we will be issuing a directive to every one of our more than 1,400 locations nationwide, making clear that they are prohibited from voluntarily providing daily guest lists to ICE.

That statement wasn’t enough for civil rights advocates like the ACLU, or for lawmakers and hotel workers in Phoenix, who participated in protests against the company Friday.

“Motel 6 should be condemned for acting as a deputized law enforcement agency that profiles its customers,” says Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Businesses that serve the public have an obligation to treat consumers fairly and must not resort to racial profiling at the behest of law enforcement.”

Texas Congressmen Joaquin Castro raised another issue about the practice.  

That’s a question that many others are now asking. “What other kinds of institutions that are like this might be working with ICE?” says Audrey Singer, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute whose research focuses on immigrant integration in cities and suburbs. “A lot of government organizations can keep ICE away without warrants, but this is a very different case because this is the private sector, and it’s not about a workplace violation. It calls into question how far ICE can go, or how far private entities can go with ICE.”

There’s a long history to hotels giving information about guests to the police. In 2015, the Supreme Court struck down a decades-old ordinance in Los Angeles that required hotel owners to give registries to any police officer who requested, without a warrant. The ordinance dates back to 1899, and was put into place during a period when police were cracking down on prostitution, drug trafficking, and gambling at low-cost hotels in L.A. In the 2015 case, Patel v. The City of Los Angeles, the Supreme Court ruled that this violated the Fourth Amendment rights of hotel owners. Today, hotel and motel owners cannot be forced to turn over registries without a warrant; however, they may do so voluntarily.

Motel 6 has received criticism in the past for this practice, but the company’s current privacy policy is unambiguous on the issue: “We may disclose Guest Information to law enforcement agencies,” it reads. Many other hotel companies have similar language.

It isn’t surprising for this story to come out of Arizona, which passed one of the most restrictive anti-immigrations laws in the country under SB 1070 in 2010. It’s even less of a shock that it happened in Maricopa County, whose former sheriff was found guilty of criminal contempt following decades of racial profiling and was pardoned by President Donald Trump less than a month later.

Since Trump took office, immigration lawyers across the country have reported increases in the practice of exploiting the fear of deportation within Latino communities. CityLab’s Kriston Capps recently revealed how legal aid experts in California, for example, have noticed a trend of landlords taking advantage of undocumented renters by threatening deportation to evict tenants and raise rents. Fears of deportation among agricultural workers have also been linked to harsher working conditions (and rising food prices).

Immigrant populations are particularly vulnerable in such scenarios because of the lack of legal protections they have when faced with employers or landlords who feel moved to take immigration enforcement into their own hands.  

“The public deserves to know whether local, state, and federal law enforcement in Phoenix and elsewhere are operating in back channels to target immigrant communities to fulfill this administration’s harsh immigration policies,” says Clarke. “None of this serves our communities or makes them safer.”