In a conference call on Tuesday, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) announced they are filing a class-action lawsuit against Motel 6 and its parent company, G6 Hospitality. In the complaint filed in Arizona’s U.S. District Court, MALDEF says Motel 6’s guest list practice is “racially discriminatory, unconstitutional, and violates laws that protect privacy rights and the rights of consumers.”
MALDEF argues that by routinely giving guest information to ICE, Motel 6 violated the Fourth Amendment, federal nondiscrimination law, and Arizona laws that forbid deceptive business practices and intrusion of privacy.
In a media briefing on Tuesday, MALDEF president and general counsel Thomas Saenz said that his organization is pursuing a class action deliberately. The organization wants to show that “not only are there very good business reasons to avoid this kind of cooperation, but there are legal reasons as well.”
“In effect, we are seeking to deter any cooperation of this sort with an increasingly frightening regime of enforcement emanating from the Washington administration of Donald Trump,” Saenz said.
In September, Phoenix New Times revealed that Motel 6 locations here were giving guest lists to ICE and that at least 20 undocumented guests had been arrested as a result. The practice wasn’t just limited to Arizona: Washington’s attorney general announced on January 3 that he is suing Motel 6 for violations of consumer protection and anti-discrimination laws.
MALDEF is seeking class certification in the lawsuit for anyone who stayed at a Motel 6 location after February 1, 2017. The organization is also asking the court to define as a class all Latino guests who stayed at a Motel 6 after February, and anyone who stayed at a Motel 6 location in Arizona.
MALDEF is representing eight Latino plaintiffs who were arrested at Phoenix Motel 6 locations. The plaintiffs include residents of Glendale, Tucson, and Phoenix. MALDEF said all plaintiffs are unnamed in the suit to avoid possible backlash.
Many of them showed a Mexican passport or consular identification card when they arrived at the Motel 6 front desk. All were detained and one has been deported.
In one instance, the lawsuit states that on June 28, 2017, a husband and wife checked into the Phoenix Motel 6 at 1530 North 52nd Drive to escape the heat because their home’s air conditioning wasn’t working. Plaintiff “John M.” showed his Mexican passport at the front desk. At 6 a.m. the next morning, three ICE agents banged on the door and handcuffed him.
According to the complaint, John M. told the ICE agents that his wife was in the bathroom attempting to change clothing and explained that she was “sick and in recovery from a recent surgery, for which she was taking medication and bleeding regularly.” ICE agents demanded that she exit the bathroom, and then handcuffed her.
ICE took the pair to the ICE Phoenix Field Office, where they were separated. ICE issued John M. with a notice to appear, allowing him to leave after he paid a $3,000 bond. However, “Jane N.” was allowed to speak with her husband for only a few minutes before being transferred to a detention center. She was deported on June 30, just two days after checking into the Phoenix Motel 6.
Nina Perales, vice president of litigation for MALDEF, said, “The essence of this claim is that Motel 6 and its employees collaborated and acted together with ICE agents to interrogate, detain, and arrest the plaintiffs without a warrant and without any probable cause that they had committed a crime.”
Perales told reporters that they are seeking an injunction and damages to compensate the guests in an amount to be determined at trial.
A G6 Hospitality spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In Washington, Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s investigation found that at least six corporate-owned Motel 6 locations regularly turned over guest lists to ICE — more than 9,000 names total during the two-year period Ferguson's office examined. ICE agents would circle Latino-sounding names on the guest list, according to the lawsuit.
MALDEF is a leading Latino advocacy group that has filed major lawsuits in the past. Along with the ACLU, MALDEF was a party to the landmark racial-profiling case Melendres v. Arpaio, in which former sheriff Joe Arpaio was found guilty of unlawful immigration sweeps and illegal detentions. And in 1982, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in MALDEF’s favor in a case that struck down Texas’s attempt to charge undocumented students tuition to attend public schools, ensuring access to K-12 public education regardless of status.
Saenz thanked the plaintiffs who have stepped forward. “It’s always an arduous step to take to sue a corporation,” he said.
“We believe the lawsuit filed today will vindicate their rights and will demonstrate, formally and officially, that immigrants of any status have a right to privacy and protection when they choose to register at a hotel or motel across this country,” Saenz said.
Update: G6 Hospitality spokesperson Raiza Rehkoff released the following statement in response to MALDEF's lawsuit.
“In September, Motel 6 issued a directive to every one of our more than 1,400 locations, making it clear that they are prohibited from voluntarily providing daily guests lists to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). While we cannot comment on specific pending litigation, we take this issue and the privacy of our guests very seriously.”