State of Washington sues Motel 6 for giving guest lists to feds
Posted January 3, 2018 7:18 p.m. EST
(CNN) — Washington state's attorney general is suing Motel 6, saying workers handed over guest lists to federal immigration agents in violation of state privacy laws.
The suit alleges that agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement would visit Motel 6 locations in Washington and request a guest list from a receptionist without a warrant then try to find undocumented immigrants.
"Motel 6 staff observed ICE identify guests of interest to ICE, including by circling guests with Latino-sounding names," the lawsuit says. At least six guests were arrested or detained, Attorney General Bob Ferguson told reporters.
Ferguson said the privacy rights of more than 9,150 people who stayed at the national discount motel chain locations in Washington were violated. Information given to ICE included names of guests, dates of birth, driver's license numbers, and license plate numbers, the lawsuit says.
"Motel 6's actions are disturbing and they are unlawful," he said.
The lawsuit alleges Motel 6, which has 11 corporate-owned and 15 franchise-owned motels in Washington, trained its employees to provide the lists to ICE agents and have the agents sign a form.
Motel 6 said all its locations were sent a directive in September "making it clear that they are prohibited from voluntarily providing daily guests lists to (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."
ICE said that because it is not a defendant in the lawsuit it would not comment on the allegations.
"Due to operational security, (ICE) does not typically disclose or discuss specific information related to the source of its enforcement leads," ICE spokeswoman Danielle Bennett said in a statement. "The agency's immigration enforcement actions are targeted and lead driven, prioritizing individuals who pose a risk to our communities. It's worth noting that hotels and motels have frequently been exploited by criminal organizations engaged in highly dangerous illegal enterprises, including human trafficking and human smuggling."
Washington investigation continues
Motel 6 admitted six motels provided information to agents even though they didn't have warrants, Ferguson said. He told reporters that four of those locations informed his office about the 9,000-plus names, but he believes the total is incomplete.
Two other motels also didn't release the numbers of guests involved, so the figure of people affected will be significantly higher, he indicated.
Ferguson said Motel 6 told investigators that the other five corporate-owned units in the state didn't release guest lists to ICE.
What the other 15 Motel 6 locations did is part of an ongoing investigation, he said.
The attorney general gave an example of how the process worked.
Ferguson said ICE agents would arrive at the Motel 6 in south Everett either early in the morning or late at night and get a guest list.
"According to Motel 6 staff, the ICE agents circled any Latino or Latina sounding names on the guest registry and returned to their vehicles, presumably to run those names through a database," Ferguson said. He said this happened 228 times in 225 days at that Everett location in 2017, but the practice dates to 2015.
One person was taken into custody at the location, he said
Personal information given out
Ferguson alleges thousands of violations of the state's Consumer Protection Agency. The state seeks $2,000 per alleged violation, or at least $18 million.
In September, Motel 6 said two locations in Phoenix had been providing guest lists. Twenty people were arrested there.
The company said at the time it was reviewing practices to "help ensure that our broader engagement with law enforcement is done in a manner that is respectful of our guests' rights."
"Protecting the privacy and security of our guests are core values of our company," the statement said.
Ferguson said his office began looking into Washington Motel 6 locations after the reports from Arizona. The lawsuit was filed in King County Superior Court.