PHOENIX — The budget-priced Motel 6 chain is well known for the enduring tagline: “We’ll leave the light on for you.”
But some Phoenix immigration attorneys said employees of the motel chain also have been shining a light on undocumented guests, providing guest information directly to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.
Motel 6, in response to a report this week in the Phoenix New Times, said employees will no longer work with immigration agents.
The weekly newspaper reported that federal immigration agents arrested at least 20 people at two Motel 6 locations in the Phoenix area between February and August. Motel employees told the New Times they regularly delivered guest lists to ICE.
“This was implemented at the local level without the knowledge of senior management,” the hospitality company tweeted Wednesday night. “When we became aware of it last week, it was discontinued.”
A Motel 6 statement on Thursday confirmed “certain local Motel 6 properties in the Phoenix area were voluntarily providing daily guest lists to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.”
“To help ensure that this does not occur again, we will be issuing a directive to every one of our more than 1,400 locations nationwide, making clear that they are prohibited from voluntarily providing daily guest lists to ICE.”
The company 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,” the statement said.
“Protecting the privacy and security of our guests are core values of our company,” the statement said.
“Motel 6 apologizes for this incident and will continue to work to earn the trust and patronage of our millions of loyal guests.”
Phoenix immigration attorney Ray Ybarra Maldonado said one of his clients, Alfonso Gutierrez Tovar, was taken into custody by ICE agents at a Motel 6 in May. Gutierrez had returned to the United States illegally from Mexico after a previous deportation. He was deported again last month.
“One of the obvious questions to me was, ‘You didn’t commit a new crime, so how did ICE know you were at this Motel 6?” Ybarra said.
Ybarra said ICE agents knocked on the motel room door one day after Gutierrez had checked in. They asked for him by name, handcuffed him and put him in the back of a car.
“Then he saw them knock on four other doors and get people as well,” the attorney said. “At that point it’s kind of like, OK something fishy is going on here.”
Another attorney, Robert McWhirter, said a client named Jose Eduardo Renteria Galaviz, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, was picked up at a Phoenix Motel 6 and is awaiting deportation. He, too, had been previously deported.
“I won’t stay at a Motel 6 again,” McWhirter said. “Here’s the thing — you don’t have a right of privacy on your signature on a register … Motel 6 is in the business of renting hotel rooms. They (shouldn’t) care about immigration status.”
Yasmeen Pitts O’Keefe, a spokeswoman for ICE’s Phoenix division, declined to reveal specifics about enforcement leads. She said those sources include other law enforcement agencies, relevant databases, crime victims, and leads from the public via agency tip lines.
“It’s worth noting that hotels and motels, including those in the Phoenix area, have frequently been exploited by criminal organizations engaged in highly dangerous illegal enterprises, including human trafficking and human smuggling,” she said in a statement.
Phoenix Police spokesman Sgt. Jonathan Howard said the department sometimes gets hotel and motel guest lists through “informal contacts.”
Civil liberties groups criticized the Motel 6 practice.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona tweeted: “Will new policy reflect this “discontinued” practice, @motel6? We look forward to reading it.”
Cecillia Wang, deputy legal director of National ACLU, said on Twitter, “@motel6: They’ll leave the light on — for ICE and police. Turning over guest info regularly?”
Tom Bodett, the longtime Motel 6 brand spokesman and the voice behind the popular slogan, said via Twitter that he believed the Phoenix motel employees acted on their own.
“It is troubling for sure and not at all the values that me or anybody at Motel 6 management shares,” Bodett told CNN.
“It’s just troubling as can be and I’m sorry it happened.”
Ybarra, the attorney, suggested a new Motel 6 tag line: “They’ll shine the light on you. That’s what they’re doing.”