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Washington AG’s office sues Motel 6 for violating guests’ privacy

Motel chain reportedly turned over guest lists to ICE; six people detained

By , Columbian Assistant Metro Editor
Published:
3 Photos
A Motel 6 motel is seen Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018, in SeaTac, Wash. Washington's attorney general is suing Motel 6, saying the budget hotel disclosed the personal information of thousands of guests to federal immigration authorities in violation of state law. Attorney General Bob Ferguson said at a news conference Wednesday that the motel divulged to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement the names, dates of birth, license plate numbers and room numbers of more than 9,000 guests at six locations throughout the state.
A Motel 6 motel is seen Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018, in SeaTac, Wash. Washington's attorney general is suing Motel 6, saying the budget hotel disclosed the personal information of thousands of guests to federal immigration authorities in violation of state law. Attorney General Bob Ferguson said at a news conference Wednesday that the motel divulged to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement the names, dates of birth, license plate numbers and room numbers of more than 9,000 guests at six locations throughout the state. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson) Photo Gallery

Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a lawsuit Wednesday against Motel 6, alleging that the motel chain violated Washington’s consumer protection and discrimination laws when it provided guest lists to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, resulting in at least a half-dozen people being detained.

The family of one Vancouver man believes he may have fallen victim to the practice.

Ramon Flores-Garcia had been living in the United States for about 20 years when he was detained by ICE agents while working in Everett on Valentine’s Day. He was deported in August to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, leaving behind his wife of 14 years and seven children.

Flores, then 43, was staying at one of the two Motel 6 locations in Everett at the time. His family previously said he was stopped a few blocks away from the motel.

The family was unsure why Flores was stopped and initially thought a competing business reported him. But upon learning of the Attorney General’s Office’s investigation, they now believe “he was most likely detained because of Motel 6,” Flores’ daughter, 21-year-old Leslie Flores, wrote in an email to The Columbian on Wednesday.

ICE previously would not confirm if Motel 6 provided Ramon Flores’ information to agents, citing “operational security” reasons.

“Honestly, it’s a bit disappointing that those people would give the lists to the ICE agents, but after that whole year of crazy things happening, it really isn’t much of a surprise,” Leslie Flores wrote.

During a press conference Wednesday, Ferguson said his office found that both the North Everett and South Everett Motel 6 locations had been providing guest registry information to ICE agents since at least 2015. And at least four other locations in Bellingham, South Seattle, SeaTac and South Tacoma followed the same practice, he said.

“Motel 6’s actions are disturbing, and they are unlawful,” Ferguson said, adding that the motel chain employed “unfair and deceptive” business practices.

Four of those locations released the personal information of at least 9,151 guests — their names, guest identification and room numbers, birth dates, driver’s license numbers and license plate numbers — even though the motel’s privacy policy assured guests their information was protected, according to the Attorney General’s Office. The other two locations, Bellingham and SeaTac, admitted to sharing guest information with ICE, Ferguson said, but have not yet provided details about the number of people affected.

All six locations are corporate-owned motels, Ferguson said.

Motel 6 has more than 1,200 locations across North America, and the company owns and operates 26 locations in Washington — both corporate- and franchise-owned, according to a press release from the Attorney General’s Office.

The lawsuit was filed in King County Superior Court and alleges that Motel 6 committed thousands of violations of the state’s Consumer Protection Act and hundreds of violations of the Washington Law Against Discrimination.

The Washington Supreme Court case State v. Jorden previously established that guest registry information is private; random searches of this information violate a person’s privacy rights under the state constitution. Additionally, the state’s discrimination laws prohibit direct and indirect discrimination on the basis of national origin, the press release states.

Ferguson argues that information disclosed about each guest is a separate violation of the Consumer Protection Act.

His office is seeking civil penalties of up to $2,000 per violation, as well as recovery of its costs and fees, the news release states.

The suit also seeks injunctive relief to prohibit Motel 6 from providing guest lists to ICE in the future.

Arizona cases spur investigation

Ferguson said his office began investigating after The Phoenix New Times first reported in September that at least two Motel 6 locations in Arizona were giving ICE information without a warrant that led to guests being detained and deported.

According to The New York Times, a Mesa, Ariz., immigration attorney, Juan Rocha, said that an employee at a Motel 6 in Washington told him of the same practice here.

In September, Rocha’s office told The Columbian they did not know which location the Motel 6 employee in Washington was calling about, because the employee wished to remain anonymous.

After the issue made national headlines, Motel 6 released a statement on social media saying the practice was “implemented at the local level without the knowledge of senior management.” The company later apologized and said it would review its current practices and instructed its locations, nationwide, not to provide guest lists to ICE.

Six people were detained in Washington at or near the motels as a result of its practices, Ferguson said. It appears the majority were detained in 2017 over a six-month period. Ferguson said he did not know if those people were subsequently deported.

The Motel 6 locations provided a form to ICE agents, referred to as a law enforcement acknowledgement form, which they signed upon receiving the day’s guest list. And Motel 6 trained new employees on the process of giving guest registry information to ICE, which didn’t require agents to present a warrant, according to the Attorney General’s Office.

At the South Everett location, ICE agents visited the motel early in the morning or late at night, Ferguson said, and requested the day’s guest list. They then circled any Latino-sounding names and returned to their vehicles to presumably run the names through their database, he said.

The Attorney General’s Office found that from Feb. 1 to Sept. 14, 2017, the South Everett location released guest information to ICE about 228 times in a 225-day period.

Ferguson told reporters that he doesn’t know “what possessed Motel 6 to have a policy like this.”

Late Wednesday, Motel 6’s corporate offices sent a brief statement to The Columbian reiterating that in September it had directed all of its locations not to provide daily guest 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,” the statement reads.

Ferguson said his office will continue to investigate the six Motel 6 locations that have already admitted to providing ICE with guest lists, and will look into whether the remaining Washington locations followed the same practice.

Anyone who believes they were affected by Motel 6’s practices should contact the Attorney General’s Office’s Wing Luke Civil Rights Unit at 844-323-3864.

Family struggles

Leslie Flores said that her dad remains in Puerto Vallarta.

The family’s merchandise distribution business — selling Mexican goods — is struggling, she said, because her mom is left running the business and trying to hold down the household.

Leslie Flores said she’s been working to help her mom pay the rent and bills.

“We have our off-and-on days, but we’re getting by with some help,” she said.

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