Motel 6 was sued for allegedly helping Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials identify potential detainees by sharing thousands of guests' private information, which was used to single out "Latino-sounding names," and reached a settlement on at least one of the suits in November 2018.
Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson sued the national chain on 3 January 2018, accusing it of violating state and federal law by providing guest lists to immigration officials, who did not have warrants.
Ferguson's office said in a statement that at least six Motel 6 locations in the state violated the Consumer Protection Act and state privacy laws by giving the information to Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.
Ferguson's office states that four of the six motels combined to provide information for 9,151 guests—including names, birthdays, drivers licenses, license plate numbers and room numbers.
Motel employees were trained to give the guest information to ICE agents, who often made regular visits. The attorney general's release states:
At the South Everett location, for example, 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. On at least one occasion, ICE later returned to the motel and detained at least one individual.
Yasmeen Pitts O'Keefe, public affairs officer for ICE, declined comment on the specific lawsuit (which they are not a party in), but told Snopes that while motels can be criminal hotspots, broad sweeps do not depict the standard operating procedures of the agency.
The agency's immigration enforcement actions are targeted and lead driven, prioritizing individuals who pose a risk to our communities. 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.
Motel 6 sent us a 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). Motel 6 takes this matter very seriously, and we have and will continue to fully cooperate with the Office of the State Attorney General.
New Times found that ICE agents made at least 20 arrests at Phoenix Motel 6 locations. Employees admitted to giving the agency a daily report containing "all the names of everybody that comes in."
The company said at the time that the hotels' decision to provide agents in Arizona with guest information was "implemented at the local level without the knowledge of senior management."
On 23 January 2018 an advocacy group, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), announced that it had also filed suit against Motel 6 on behalf of eight people who were arrested at hotel locations in Phoenix. An attorney for the group, Andres Gallegos, said in a statement:
This lawsuit should serve as a warning to companies that attempt to enforce immigration laws by conspiring with the federal government to violate the civil rights of their guests. Our clients now face being separated from their families simply because they rented a hotel room.
Rich Stolz, executive director of the immigrant advocacy group OneAmerica, said in a statement that he applauded Ferguson's move to sue Motel 6 over reportedly similar behavior by its employees in his state:
The practices revealed by the Washington Attorney General's investigation fit a pattern that has sadly become more common since the election of President Trump. The actions of Motel 6 were not only disturbing and repugnant – they were also unlawful.
On 2 November 2018, MALDEF and the motel chain agreed to a proposed settlement; Motel 6 agreed to reimburse the targeted former guests for their legal fees, as well as pay at least $50 per person to guests whose information was provided to authorities. Guests who were interrogated while staying at Motel 6 properties or made subject to deportation proceedings are eligible for settlements of at least $1,000 per person and at least $7,500 per person, respectively. The settlement must still be approved in court.
Federal immigration policy has been in flux with the election of President Donald Trump, who campaigned on building a border wall and deporting "bad hombres," and promises broader American isolationism. Advocates have decried his portrayals and policies, saying the president wrongly criminalizes Latinos.