BUSINESS

After Motel 6 immigrant arrests, hotels explain how they'll protect guest information

An outcry over Phoenix-area Motel 6 employees turning over guest information to immigration officers without a warrant has prompted hotel industry officials to urge all owners to protect guest information.

On Wednesday, Motel 6 corporate leaders promised to put a stop to such practices throughout their chain of 1,400 hotels.

According to the Phoenix New Times, which first reported the story, workers at the Motel 6 inns routinely sent guests’ names to Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials without the federal agency showing a warrant. Based on the information, ICE arrested about 20 people at two locations.

The corporate headquarters of Motel 6 issued a statement, saying it was unaware that the operators of the Motel 6 franchises were taking such actions. “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,” Motel 6 said in a statement.

Legal experts say hotels are not obligated to provide guest information to law enforcement or immigration officials without a warrant.

"There is sensitive information that goes into any sort of guest registry, and to turn it over to a government agency or to anybody outside of the company is, I think, really reckless," said Davis Bae, regional managing partner at the employment law firm of Fisher Phillips.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers detain a suspect during an enforcement operation in February 2017 in Los Angeles.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers detain a suspect during an enforcement operation in February 2017 in Los Angeles. (Charles Reed / AFP/Getty Images)

The fallout for Motel 6

The damage to Motel 6’s image may be difficult to repair. Already, social media is littered with calls to boycott the hotel chain because of the raids.

Regardless of the promise from Motel 6 to stop volunteering guest names to ICE, immigrants with questionable legal status are likely to stay clear of the budget hotel chain, said Carl Winston, director of the School of Hospitality & Tourism Management at San Diego State University.

“This is a chilling action for Motel 6’s business,” he said. “If I’m someone in the country illegally, why would I stay at Motel 6? I’d avoid it like the plague.”

Motel 6 along with Studio 6 are chains of budget hotels owned by Texas-based G6 Hospitality. New York-based private equity firm Blackstone Group bought the brands in 2012 and created G6 in 2015 to manage them.

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Hotels don’t have to cooperate

Attorneys and legal experts say hotel operators have no legal obligation to share information or permit ICE officials to enter their premises without a warrant.

“There is no law that says hotel operators have to share anything with ICE,” said Cody Wofsy, staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrants’ Rights Project. “Hotel operators aren’t government agents; they’re private parties.”

On the local level, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Los Angeles municipal code in 2015 that required hotel operators to keep specific guest information for 90 days and make those records available to LAPD officers on demand. The court ruled that the law was unconstitutional and violated the 4th Amendment.

Pulling out guest names that appear to be of a specific ethnicity could also be unlawful based on state civil rights laws that prohibit businesses from discriminating against individuals on the basis of race or religion, said Niels Frenzen, a clinical professor of law at USC and director of the USC law school’s immigration clinic.

Bae said businesses should conduct training for their employees that covers legal obligations and company policies.

"Understanding what guests’ rights are, what the employer’s rights are and the limitations of ICE are really important," he said.

Industry group explains the law

Most hotel operators already know that they are not obligated to provide guest information to law enforcement without a warrant, said Lynn Mohrfeld, president of the California Hotel and Lodging Assn.

But because of the Motel 6 incident, Mohrfeld said he expects his trade group will put out a statement to its members, explaining the law.

The practice by Motel 6 of volunteering guest information to ICE agents is probably an isolated case, he said, and is unlikely to lead to fear among other guests booking at other hotels.

“This is not normal practice,” he said. “This is not OK.”

What ICE says about the raids

ICE declined to comment specifically on the raids at Motel 6.

Instead, the agency issued a general statement on how it gets tips that lead to arrests. “The agency receives viable enforcement tips from a host of sources, including other law enforcement agencies, relevant databases, crime victims, and the general public via the agency’s tip line and online tip form.”

ICE added: “It’s worth noting that hotels and motels, including those in the Phoenix area, have frequently been exploited by criminal organizations engaged in highly dangerous illegal enterprises, including human trafficking and human smuggling.”

No boycott yet, activists say

Apolonio Morales, political director for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, called the incident “disheartening” and blamed an environment of anti-immigrant rhetoric in Arizona, where former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio was pardoned by President Trump after he violated a court order against racially profiling Latinos.

For now, Morales said his group won’t call for a boycott of Motel 6 until more information comes out about how widespread the practice has been in the company.

But he added that the motel workers who volunteered the guest information should be held accountable.

“It’s racially profiling,” he said. “It’s very disturbing. Getting to the core of it is the most important thing.”

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