Will Arizona Attorney General Follow Washington's Lead, Take Action Against Motel 6?

After Wednesday's news that Washington's attorney general is suing Motel 6 for violating customer privacy, you might wonder: Why isn't Arizona attorney general Mark Brnovich doing the same thing?

After all, we know that at least 20 people in the Phoenix area were detained after Motel 6 provided their names and room numbers to ICE. So far, Washington's investigation has turned up only six examples of that happening.

"I can't comment on whether there's an open investigation, but there has been an inquiry," Ryan Anderson, the director of communications at the Arizona AG's office, told Phoenix New Times on Wednesday.

In early October, the Attorney General's office sent a letter to Motel 6 asking the following:

1. What were your policies and procedures regarding the "Daily Guest List"? Please provide a copy of the policies and/or procedures.
2. How many of your hotel/facilities participate(d) in these policies and/or procedures regarding distribution of the Daily Guest List to Immigrations and Customs Enforcement Officers?
3. Why did the above-referenced policies and/or procedures begin?
4. When did you begin the above-referenced policies and/or procedures?
5. Are the above-referenced policies and/or procedures still in effect? If not, why and when were they discontinued?
6. If you have new policies and/or procedures in place regarding distribution of "The Daily Guest List," provide a copy and state why and when the new policies and/or procedures were implemented.
Anderson confirmed that the Attorney General's office has received a response to that letter. However, because the inquiry was initiated by the civil rights division, Motel 6's response is protected under the state's Civil Rights Act. Reporters (and members of the general public) aren't able to see what it says. 

As to whether any further action will be taken, Anderson said that he couldn't comment.

He also said that the Attorney General's office hasn't received any civil rights complaints about Motel 6 sharing guest information with ICE.

Anyone who wishes to file a complaint can do still so, via the office's website. However, it's not hard to understand why that hasn't happened, since you have to know that the form exists in the first place.

In any case, the big question — which Brnovich's office couldn't comment on — is whether Motel 6 broke any state laws by sharing guest information with ICE.

Washington's attorney general is accusing the chain of violating the state's Consumer Protection Act and anti-discrimination ordinance.  He also cited a state Supreme Court decision that explicitly deems hotel guest registries to be private.

Arizona also has anti-discrimination and consumer protection laws, but they're not identical to Washington's. So, in other words, there's no reason to assume that Brnovich would even have grounds to file a lawsuit against Motel 6.

Of course, it would be naive to assume that politics don't also play a role here. Bob Ferguson, the Washington AG, is a Democrat best known for suing the Trump administration over birth control and the travel ban. There's talk that he might be running for governor, and going after Motel 6 certainly won't hurt his image in blue-state Washington.

And after news of the Washington lawsuit broke, one of Brnovich's political rivals — January Contreras, who's running against him as a Democrat — seized the opportunity to criticize him.

She wrote on Twitter, "Investigative reporting was part one of seeking justice here but part two never happens when you have an AG who's not willing to protect the rights of all Arizonans. We would on my watch."

Back in October, the Arizona Latino Legislative Caucus met with staff from Brnovich's office to discuss their concerns about Motel 6 sharing guest information with ICE.

State Representative Athena Salman, a Democrat from Tempe who attended the meeting, says that she understands that Motel 6's actions may not necessarily have been a violation of Arizona's laws.

But if that's the case, she hopes that Brnovich will support future legislation that would make it illegal to hand over guest information without a warrant.

“I was heartened last session to see the Attorney General play a key role in holding moving companies accountable," she said. "If this wasn’t a violation of privacy, can we count on the Attorney General’s support to make sure we can stamp out a bad actor like Motel 6 in the future?”

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Antonia Noori Farzan is a staff writer at New Times and an honors graduate of Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. Before moving to Arizona, she worked for the New Times Broward-Palm Beach.