The state of Washington has filed a consumer protection and civil rights lawsuit against the Motel 6 chain for violating customers' privacy.
In September, Phoenix New Times revealed that employees at two Phoenix-area Motel 6s had been regularly sharing guest information with ICE. After our story was picked up by national news outlets, Motel 6 pledged to discontinue the practice and claimed that it had been "undertaken at the local level without the knowledge of senior management."
We now have evidence that the same thing was happening in Washington.
"It was not isolated to two hotels in Phoenix, not by a long shot," Attorney General Bob Ferguson said at a press conference today.
After reading New Times' reporting back in September, Ferguson directed his staff to investigate whether something similar was taking place at Motel 6's Washington locations.
"I was not impressed by Motel 6’s response at all," he said.
When the attorney general's office opened a formal investigation, Motel 6 admitted that for at least two years, six corporate-owned locations in Washington had been sharing guest information with ICE, including driver's license numbers, license plate numbers, dates of birth, and room numbers.
At one location in South Everett, ICE agents would visit the motel early in the morning or late at night, request that day's guest list, circle any Latino-sounding names, and then return to their vehicles, Ferguson said. Between February 1 and September 14 of 2017, clerks at the South Everett location gave guest information to ICE on approximately 228 separate occasions.
At least six individuals were detained by ICE as a result of this practice. It's unclear if those individuals have already been deported. New Times' reporting revealed that at least 20 people were detained in Phoenix.
"I want to emphasize, though, that we expect that number to be higher," Ferguson said. "To say that we have incomplete information is an understatement."
The chain did not provide information about 15 locations in the state that are franchises, and Ferguson said that the investigation is still ongoing.
He described Motel 6's actions as "disturbing and unlawful," and said that he plans to find out "who [in senior management] knew what, and when they knew it."
The lawsuit argues that Motel 6's actions violated Washington's anti-discrimination laws, since the chain was aware that ICE would use its guest lists to target guests based on their national origin.
It also argues that Motel 6 committed thousands of violations of the state's Consumer Protection Act by releasing the personal information of at least 9,151 guests to ICE over a two-year period. The attorney general's office is asking for a penalty of $2,000 for each individual violation of the Consumer Protection Act.
The attorney general's office also noted that a prior Washington state Supreme Court case had determined that guest registry information is private, and that random searches of hotel guest lists violate the state's constitution.
Asked why Motel 6 would voluntarily share paying customers' private information with ICE, Ferguson responded, "I do not have an answer to that, but I intend to find out."
We've asked Motel 6 to comment and will update this story if they respond.
Update, 2:15 p.m.: Motel 6 has issued the following statement:
“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). Motel 6 takes this matter very seriously, and we have and will continue to fully cooperate with the Office of the State Attorney General.”
Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.