Motel 6 says its employees in Phoenix will no longer work with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents following news reports that its workers were reporting on guests they believed were in the United States illegally.
In a tweet about reports first published in the Phoenix New Times, Motel 6 said Wednesday: "This was implemented at the local level without the knowledge of senior management. When we became aware of it last week, it was discontinued."
The news that Motel 6 workers in Phoenix were tipping off ICE agents immediately thrust the chain into the national immigration debate, with some detractors complaining about its vague and tepid statement.
Social media exploded with criticism and satire aimed at the budget motel chain, with some playing off its slogan, "We'll leave the light on for you."
"They'll leave the light on--for ICE and police," Cecilia Wang, national deputy director for the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a tweet. The hashtag #BoycottMotel6 began circulating.
Longtime Motel 6 pitchman Tom Bodett sent a tweet supporting the chain, saying: "If you've been vexed by the situation with @motel6 in Phoenix. Here is the response from their HQ. I had faith this was the case" and included the chain's statement.
The weekly Phoenix New Times was the first to report on Wednesday that ICE had arrested at least 20 people at two Motel 6 locations in heavily Latino areas of Phoenix. The paper quoted workers as saying they gave guest lists to agents.
An ICE spokeswoman in Phoenix declined to confirm or deny that.
"Due to operational security, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) does not typically disclose or discuss specific information related to the source of its enforcement leads," said Yasmeen Pitts O'Keefe, the spokeswoman for the agency's local office.
She said ICE gets its 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. Private citizens who provide enforcement leads to ICE are not compensated for the information."
Among those arrested by ICE in June at one of the Phoenix hotels was Jose Eduardo Renteria Galaviz, who was in court on Thursday to be sentenced for reentering the United States after having been deported.
His attorney Robert McWhirter said it is legal for hotels to provide ICE agents with information about guests if they want to. But he said a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling prohibits authorities from forcing a hotel operator to relinquish a guest register without a warrant.
He said Motel 6's statement issued showed that members of the chain's national management were probably unaware of what was happening in Phoenix and were concerned about the effect the policy could have on business.
McWhirter said the current flap said a lot about local attitudes toward immigrants.
Former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio gained national attention for his aggressive policies toward immigrants who are in the United States illegally, and President Trump's get-tough attitude toward illegal immigration has been embraced by many in the Phoenix area.