(Bloomberg)—Motel 6’s parent company, G6 Hospitality LLC, said locations in the Phoenix-area have been voluntarily handing over guest information to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) employees.
“This was implemented at the local level without the knowledge of senior management,” G6 spokeswoman Raiza Rehkoff wrote in an email. “When we became aware of it last week, it was discontinued.” She said the company is investigating the incidents. The Blackstone Group acquired Motel 6 in 2012 as part of a $1.9 billion deal. At least 20 undocumented people were arrested at two Motel 6 locations between February and August, according to the Phoenix New Times.
Clerks at “multiple” Motel 6 properties around Phoenix said they regularly share customer information with federal immigration authorities, the New Times reported. “We send a report every morning to ICE—all the names of everybody that comes in,” a front-desk clerk told the newspaper. “Every morning at about 5 o’clock, we do the audit, and we push a button, and it sends it to ICE.” Rehkoff didn’t respond to a question about whether other Motel 6 properties operated similarly with ICE or other law enforcement agencies.
The role of Motel 6 outposts in aiding U.S. immigration enforcement raises the question of whether ICE agents are soliciting guest data from other lodging chains. An ICE spokeswoman, Virginia Kice, declined to discuss how the agency collects enforcement leads, but in an email Wednesday, she wrote “it’s worth noting” that hotels and motels have been frequently used “in highly dangerous enterprises, including human trafficking and human smuggling.”
Innkeepers routinely comply with search warrants and other court orders when law enforcement agents seek customer data and may reveal customer information when police are summoned to a property for an emergency or other public-safety situation. But the largest U.S. hotel trade group says most lodging companies prohibit the voluntary offer of such data. Rosanna Maietta, a spokeswoman for the American Hotel & Lodging Association, said guest and employee privacy is a “high priority” for the industry.
“We understand that the standard practice is that guest information of any type is not turned over to anybody asking for it absent a subpoena or other compulsory process, except under extenuating circumstances such as when the safety of other guests comes into question,” she said.
Legally, there could be constitutional violations if ICE agents enlisted the help of Motel 6 operators, effectively making them agents of the government. Additionally, state privacy laws could mean civil or criminal penalties for motels who disclose customer information.
Another large chain, Choice Hotels International Inc., which franchises several brands, including Comfort Inn, Rodeway Inn, and Sleep Inn, will give guest information to law enforcement only “pursuant to a valid subpoena,” according to a spokeswoman. Each of the company’s hotels, however, is independently owned and operated.
“Most people probably don’t realize they’re talking about the light of a police siren”
Motel 6 traces its history to 1960, when two California real estate contractors saw a need for low-cost lodging. Its signature tag line, “We’ll leave the light on for you” began with a 1986 radio advertising campaign.
Two years ago, the American Civil Liberties Union criticized G6 Hospitality’s practices after a Motel 6 property in Warwick, R.I., acknowledged sharing its daily guest list with local police. Over a year, Warwick police arrested 75 people at the motel, which sits adjacent to the busy I-95, a local ABC television station reported in March 2015.
“When Motel 6 says in its ads that they’ll ‘leave the light on for you,’ most people probably don’t realize they’re talking about the light of a police siren,” the ACLU’s Rhode Island chapter said.
The incidents in Arizona come as suburban Dallas-based G6 Hospitality is expanding into the Latin American market with a brand called Estudio 6. The first two of an envisioned 55 properties are scheduled to open this year in Salamanca and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
Brian Frieda, president of the Texas Police Chiefs Association and chief of police in Sweetwater, Texas, said he wasn’t aware of departments that routinely gather such information. He also said he doesn’t allow such police solicitations of motels in his area, a West Texas town of 11,000. “To the best of my knowledge, no hotel/motel in my jurisdiction just makes this data available unless … it is under a court order,” Frieda said.
This spring, the association and chiefs of several major Texas cities expressed strong opposition to a proposed state bill that would have allowed police officers to inquire about a person’s immigration status. The cities said they didn’t want to shoulder a federal immigration enforcement role, which would “further strain the relationship between local law enforcement and these diverse communities.” They also argued the law would make it more difficult to apprehend criminals, since witnesses may be afraid to contact or speak with police because of their immigration status.
Texas lawmakers passed the so-called “show-me-your-papers” law, which is now entangled in lawsuits.
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