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'Leave the light on - for ICE': Motel 6 employees reported guests to immigration officials

By: Samantha Schmidt, The Washington Post
September 14, 2017 Updated: September 14, 2017 at 8:48 am
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Two Phoenix-area Motel 6 locations, including this one at 1530 N. 52nd Drive, are suspected to have given guest information to ICE. Photo courtesy Motel 6.

The Motel 6 budget lodging chain is commonly associated with its longtime slogan of welcoming hospitality: "We'll leave the light on."

But for immigration attorneys in the Phoenix area, the motel chain has become the site of a troubling string of immigration arrests. And according to a report published Wednesday by the Phoenix New Times, employees at two Motel 6 locations may have been sending guest information directly to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

After the story published, Motel 6 released a statement saying the practice was "implemented at the local level without the knowledge of senior management."

"When we became aware of it last week, it was discontinued," Motel 6 wrote in the statement posted on Twitter and Facebook.

Immigration agents arrested at least 20 people at two Motel 6 locations between February and August, dropping by about every two weeks, the New Times reported. The actual number is likely to be even higher, the publication reported, because several court documents contained ambiguous information about arrest locations.

The two Motel 6 locations are in predominately Latino neighborhoods, not far from Mexican bakeries and restaurants. Both locations are corporate-owned - neither are franchises.

Phoenix Police department spokesperson Jonathan Howard confirmed to the New Times that "on occasion and through informal contacts," a number of hotels and motels have shared guest lists with law enforcement officers.

A spokesperson for ICE's Phoenix division told the New Times that she was unable to confirm whether the agency routinely reviews hotel guest lists or investigates tips from Motel 6 employees. "Those are investigative techniques that we wouldn't be able to talk about," she said.

But, she added: "If hypothetically we were somewhere - if we did administratively arrest some folks - that happens all the time. We conduct targeted enforcement operations every day."

Employees at the two respective Phoenix locations told the New Times that reporting guest lists to ICE was standard practice.

"We send a report every morning to ICE - all the names of everybody that comes in," one front-desk clerk told the New Times. "Every morning at about 5 o'clock, we do the audit and we push a button and it sends it to ICE."

In about a third of the arrest records reviewed by the New Times, ICE agents entered the motel without a search warrant, in what the newspaper described as a "knock and talk." Officers simply knocked on the motel room door and asked to go inside.

In one instance, immigration officials arrested Mexican native Manuel Rodriguez-Juarez, 33, six hours after he checked into a Motel 6. When he had reserved the room, Rodriguez-Juarez had shown the front-desk clerk his only form of identification, his Mexican voter ID card.

Arrest records did not indicate how ICE had nabbed him, only that officers were "following a lead." Immigration officials had "received information that Rodriguez-Juarez was checked into room #214," according to Department of Homeland Security records cited by the New Times.

Rodriguez-Juarez's lawyer still wonders how officials found that "lead," and whether someone at Motel 6 may have reported him. Rodriguez-Juarez is currently being held at an immigration detention center while his attorney pursues his asylum case.

The revelations in the New Times article prompted ire from immigration advocates across social media, and praise from some supporters of President Donald Trump's immigration crackdown. It also stirred a debate over privacy concerns, and left many wondering: If some Motel 6 locations are tipping off ICE, could other motels or lodges nationwide be following suit? Others suggested the report could indicate racial profiling on behalf of motel employees who report certain guests to ICE.

On Twitter, many people condemned Motel 6, decrying the chain's vague response and calling for a more detailed explanation. The hashtag #BoytcottMotel6 began circulating Wednesday night.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona tweeted: "Will new policy reflect this "discountined" practice, @motel6? We look forward to reading it." The national ACLU account also tweeted at Motel 6 asking for its company policy.

Tom Bodett has been the brand spokesman for the Motel 6 chain for over 25 years, according to his website. He is the voice behind the slogan, "We'll leave the light on for you."

On Wednesday, Bodett tweeted: "If you've been vexed by the situation with @motel6 in Phoenix. Here is the response from their HQ. I had faith this was the case." Some of his followers called on him to condemn the chain.

This is not the first time Motel 6 has come under scrutiny for providing police with guest lists. In Rhode Island in 2015, police implemented new protocol in which the hotel agreed to fax them a daily guest list, for authorities to check it for known criminals or suspects. The agreement came after a string of high-profile police calls to the hotel, including a prostitution arrest and a meth lab raid, according to the Providence Journal.

At the time, the Rhode Island chapter of the ACLU said it was troubled by the agreement between police and the motel, calling it "hardly the sort of 'hospitality' one anticipates from such an establishment."

"When visitors go to a hotel for the night, they expect to be treated like guests, not potential criminals," the ACLU of Rhode Island wrote. "A family on vacation should not be fearful that police may come knocking on the door in the middle of the night, courtesy of the motel, because Dad has an outstanding parking ticket he never paid."

Concerned about the legal ramifications of the protocol, the Warwick Police Chief stopped the practice 16 days later, the Providence Journal reported.

The following month, in June 2015, the Supreme Court struck down a Los Angeles ordinance that allowed police to inspect hotel guest records on demand. The Los Angeles city attorney's office had argued police needed the authority to prevent motels from becoming havens for criminal activity.

But after a group of motel owners sued, the Supreme Court said the ordinance was unconstitutional because a hotel owner who refuses could get arrested. Justice Sonia Sotomayor said motel owners deserve the change to go to a judge and object a search.

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