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Since February, at least 20 undocumented guests have been arrested at two Motel 6 locations in Phoenix. These two hotels, we learned, were turning over a daily guest list to Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers. The arrests happened at two Motel 6 locations: 4130 North Black Canyon Highway and 1530 North 52nd Drive. Both are corporate-owned locations, not franchises, so it’s possible that the practice was more widespread.
While the company has since apologized and said they will stop sharing guest lists with ICE, there is still a lot of concern. Below are some of the things you ought to know about the revelation that motels were coordinating with immigration officers.
How did ICE get the guest list?
According to Motel 6 front-desk clerks, the motel would send the guest list to ICE every day in the early morning — around 5 a.m. Presumably, that list was then checked against Department of Homeland Security databases so that they could identify people who have been deported before, or had overstayed their visa.
But not all cases of ICE arrests at these motels happened in the same way.
In one instance, an undocumented guest checked in using a Mexican voter ID card, and six hours later at around 11:30 p.m. ICE officers knocked on his motel door and arrested him.
In other cases, ICE officers arrived after a few days. Cintia de Leon’s husband and nephew checked into the Motel 6 at 4130 North Black Canyon Highway for a four-day stay on August 7. On the morning of their fourth day at the motel, ICE officers arrived and arrested them both.
Some attorneys fear that individual employees could be tipping off ICE agents in exchange for a cash reward, but we have been unable to confirm that rumor.
What is an ICE “knock-and-talk” at a motel?
When ICE officers arrive at a motel to make a specific arrest, it’s not unusual for them to knock on other doors, too.
In about a third of the confirmed arrests that happened at these motels, ICE officers arrested someone because of a so-called “knock-and-talk.” This means they arrived at the motel without a search warrant and simply asked to enter a room while searching for undocumented immigrants.
Phoenix immigration attorney Ray Ybarra Maldonado says his client, who was arrested in May at the Black Canyon Highway motel, saw knock-and-talks happen after he was detained.
The client, Alfonso Gutierrez-Tovar, was arrested by ICE but then, from the parking lot of the motel, he could see officers knock on other motel room doors.
Do local police get the motel guest list, too?
Police are likely to visit a motel or ask for the guest list if they believe someone with a warrant for their arrest is staying there.
The Phoenix Police Department acknowledged that they call area motels in order to ask employees to share the guest list. Front-desk clerks also said that a guest who has a warrant for their arrest will cause police to arrive.
“I don’t know how it works, but if you check in and you have a warrant, you’re going to get picked up,” one Motel 6 clerk explained.
And police activity at these hotels can lead to ICE’s arrival soon after. According to Maldonado, clients have been picked up by ICE after police arrived at a motel, then tipped off immigration officers to the presence of undocumented guests.
One of Maldonado’s clients was arrested at a Mesa motel after a police officer who was at the scene for an unrelated matter recognized the client from a previous arrest. The officer then alerted ICE to his location.
Are hotels/motels required to give their guest list to law enforcement?
It’s not legal for cities to force motels to hand over their guest lists to law enforcement without a warrant, thanks to a Supreme Court decision. In 2015, the Supreme Court ruled that the city of Los Angeles could not require hotels to give guest lists to police. But if a hotel manager or owner wants to send the guest list voluntarily, all bets are off.
Before the Supreme Court decision, in other cities motels coordinated with local police departments, sometimes sharing their daily guest list.
In Warwick, Rhode Island, for instance, a Motel 6 was exposed for faxing a daily guest list to police in 2015. They discontinued the practice after receiving negative attention from the ACLU and others.
What should you do if immigration officers knock on your door?
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, there are several things you should know if ICE officers knock at your home — and the same advice generally applies to a hotel/motel room.
First, remain calm and do not open the door. Ask if they have a search or arrest warrant signed by a judge. If they don’t have one, you don’t have to open the door.
If they say they have a warrant, ask to see it. If officers ask about your immigration status, you have the right to remain silent. You do not have to discuss your citizenship status with ICE officers or police.
Are other hotels and motels giving daily guest lists to ICE?
We don’t know yet. Based on our review of court records, these Motel 6 locations were frequent ICE targets. But there could be other motels — or even other businesses outside of the hospitality industry — that give a list of patrons to ICE voluntarily.
Have Motel 6 employees been fired or disciplined because of the practice at the Phoenix locations?
We don’t know. In their statement after our story was published, the Motel 6 parent company said that these motels “were voluntarily providing daily guest lists” to ICE, adding, “this was undertaken at the local level without the knowledge of senior management. When we became aware of it, it was discontinued.”
The company added that they will issue “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.”
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The company hasn’t answered any other questions about the practice, although they say they will review their guidelines about working with law enforcement. It remains to be seen what these “updated, company-wide guidelines” will look like. It’s also unclear if ICE will be able to perform surveillance outside the motels — for instance, in the parking lot.
Why did these Phoenix motels start giving their guest lists to ICE?
We’re not sure yet. It’s unclear how or why the Motel 6 locations began sending their guest list to ICE every day. It’s possible that ICE approached the motels; it’s also possible that clerks at the motels began calling ICE or sending the guest list voluntarily.
Heard anything about ICE working with local motels? Email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com