Five undocumented guests staying at a Motel 6 in Nogales, Arizona, were arrested after law enforcement arrived at the motel earlier this month. Police and the Motel 6 company said the arrests were the result of an anonymous tip from a private citizen, not a motel employee.
Nogales International initially reported that on the evening of September 13, a group of undocumented immigrants were arrested at the motel after Nogales police responded to a call, with assistance from U.S. Border Patrol agents. The arrests in Nogales took place on the same day that Phoenix New Times published an article on Motel 6 coordination with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Two Motel 6 locations in Phoenix were sharing daily guest lists with ICE.
According to a copy of the Nogales Police report provided to New Times, officers “responded to Motel 6 in reference to possible undocumented aliens being housed inside room #217.”
Officer Oscar Mesta, a spokesperson for the Nogales Police Department, said in an email, “The initial information was given to a Nogales Police officer on patrol by an anonymous private citizen. It was not an employee from the business.”
Mesta did not answer questions related to whether that tip was from a guest of the motel or someone off the property.
Police proceeded directly to room 217 and found five men inside. The report states that an officer asked them if they had entered the country illegally. After some confusion and Spanish-English translation issues, the guests allegedly said yes and that they were waiting to get picked up from the motel.
Officers asked for their names and any identification and ran a warrant check for the individuals, which turned up no criminal records or warrants. Border Patrol arrived and detained the five men.
Two women who were also allegedly renting the room were arrested and referred to Border Patrol, according to the police report. They were not at the motel when police arrived but were taken into custody while walking to a nearby Walgreens and later were turned over to Border Patrol; however, according to Mesta, the two were U.S. citizens.
The police involved in the Motel 6 arrests were on duty as a part of Operation Stonegarden, a federal program that funds overtime for police so they can assist with immigration enforcement.
Raiza Rekhoff, a spokesperson for Motel 6’s parent company, said this motel “had not and does not provide daily guest lists to the authorities.”
“Based on our preliminary investigation into the matter, our understanding of the events in Nogales is as follows: Local Motel 6 staff did not call the Nogales Police Department, nor were they in contact with immigration authorities,” Rekhoff wrote in an email to New Times. “Additionally, no information was requested of nor provided by the property to the authorities
"The Nogales Police Department arrived at the property on the evening of September 13 and proceeded directly to the guest room without any contact with the property staff," she added. "Our understanding is that they did so on the basis of an outside, anonymous tip."
A clerk at the Motel 6, located at 141 West Mariposa Road in Nogales, referred questions to the company’s media department.
The Tucson sector of U.S. Customs and Border Protection said in an email that agents "apprehended people in connection to a possible human smuggling case including people who were in the country illegally."
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Motel 6 has come under intense scrutiny since we published a story that showed the pattern of at least 20 arrests of undocumented guests at Phoenix locations. Arizona Congressman Ruben Gallego has demanded answers from ICE regarding its policies on combing hotel guest lists, and Congressman Raúl Grijalva called the revelation "sickening."
This week, a hospitality workers' union, Unite Here Local 11, and a social justice and immigrant rights organization, Central Arizonans for a Sustainable Economy (CASE), called on Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich to investigate Motel 6. The organizations say the company hasn't thoroughly investigated whether the two Phoenix motels were, in fact, isolated actors in turning over daily guest lists to ICE.
State Representative Tony Navarrete voiced his support for an investigation, and said he will push for a meeting between Brnovich and the Latino Caucus in the state legislature. He told New Times on Monday that groups like CASE and Unite Here are "on the front lines" of efforts to protect immigrants.
"The fact that this story broke is really important for this community, because it also puts companies on notice that they can't just give up guest information for the cruel intention of them getting detained and eventually deported," Navarrete said.