The family of a Vancouver man, who was deported after staying at an Everett Motel 6 in February 2017, may be entitled to a portion of a $12 million settlement announced Thursday between the motel chain and the state Attorney General’s Office.
The negotiated settlement ends a lawsuit Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed after Motel 6 routinely provided guest registry information to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.
From 2015 to 2017, seven Motel 6 locations in Washington shared the information of about 80,000 guests. Guest lists were shared with ICE on a daily basis without requiring a warrant. Ferguson said his office found that both the Everett North and Everett South Motel 6 locations, as well as locations in Bellingham, Tacoma, Seattle and two at SeaTac, followed that practice.
Ferguson’s lawsuit alleged that Motel 6 violated Washington’s consumer protection and discrimination laws when it provided the guest lists to ICE, resulting in at least nine Washingtonians being detained or deported.
“Motel 6’s actions tore families apart and violated the privacy rights of tens of thousands of Washingtonians,” Ferguson said in a news release. “Our resolution holds Motel 6 accountable for illegally handing over guests’ private information without a warrant. Any other business that tries to violate Washingtonians’ right to privacy can expect to hear from my office.”
Vancouver’s Ramon Flores-Garcia is a Mexican citizen who had been living without documentation in the United States for about 20 years. He was detained by ICE agents while working in Everett on Valentine’s Day 2017, and deported that August to Puerto Vallarta. He left behind his wife of 15 years and seven children, all of whom are legal U.S. residents.
Flores, then 43, was staying at one of the two Motel 6 locations in Everett at the time. His family previously told The Columbian that ICE agents stopped him a few blocks away from the motel.
As a result of his deportation, Flores’ family lost their housing in Vancouver. They have moved to the San Diego area, so they can be closer to him but have essentially been homeless for the last five months, his daughter, 22-year-old Leslie Flores, said in a phone interview Thursday.
An attorney the family was in contact with regarding their situation would not return her mother’s calls, Leslie Flores said, so the family gave up and started focusing on their survival: finding jobs and housing.
Ferguson’s announcement Thursday was a welcome surprise.
Leslie Flores said her family has not been in contact with the attorney general’s office but will be filing a claim. They hope to use any money they receive to put toward permanent housing.
“For one, it was obviously a pretty (expletive) thing to do to dehumanize someone like that when your job is to provide service for your guests. That’s ridiculous to me. It sucks, it really does, because they have ruined so many lives,” Leslie Flores said.
The Flores family had operated a small Mexican goods business, and Ramon Flores was the primary breadwinner for his family. When he was deported, his family couldn’t maintain their business.
The family moved to Chula Vista, Calif., in August, after being unable to afford their rent in Vancouver. They were couch-surfing with friends when they decided to relocate. For a while, they were receiving assistance to stay in motels, but when the money ran out, they started living in their car. Ramon Flores has an apartment in Tijuana, Mexico, so his family crosses the border to visit him.
Leslie Flores said her family was told Ramon Flores has been banned from entering the United States for the next 10 years.
Her family hasn’t had any issues crossing the border to see him, she said, other than being questioned about their Washington license plates. They explain that the family is homeless. Her mother has applied to multiple apartments, but they are still waiting to get in somewhere.
Her mother recently obtained a job at an elementary school and as a secretary at an immigration-related office. Her younger siblings are adjusting to their new schools, and Leslie Flores is working at a pizza place. She hopes to enroll in college when the family becomes more stable.
“We will for sure get on that,” she said of the settlement fund, “because we really need the money. If it’s enough for us to just find an apartment that is totally fine, or getting our license plates changed.”
Ferguson said his office began investigating Motel 6 after The Phoenix New Times first reported in September 2017 that at least two locations in Arizona were giving ICE guest information without a warrant, and that the information led to people being detained and deported. He filed his lawsuit in January 2018 in King County Superior Court.
In a separate lawsuit filed in Arizona, Motel 6 agreed in November to pay up to $7.6 million to Latino guests who said hotel employees shared private information with immigration officials, according to the Associated Press.
Washington Motel 6 locations routinely printed guest lists and a form, referred to as a “law enforcement acknowledgment form,” which ICE agents signed upon receipt. Personal information released included guests’ names; driver’s license numbers; passport, green card and other identification numbers; room numbers; guest identification numbers; birthdates; and license plate numbers, according to the attorney general’s office’s news release.
“At the two Everett locations, for example, ICE agents routinely visited the motels early in the morning, sometimes twice a day, from February 2015 through September 2017. ICE agents requested the day’s guest list, circled guests with Latino-sounding names and returned to their vehicles,” the news release states.
The attorney general’s office later learned that nine Everett motel guests were detained.
In addition to the payout, Motel 6 has agreed to stop giving out guest information without a warrant or other lawful reason, and agreed to adopt that policy nationwide.
Kara Colety, a Motel 6 spokeswoman, said the company has also implemented controls to ensure corporate oversight and compliance in cases where law enforcement requests are made, the Associated Press reported.
It will also provide employee training on guest privacy, which will be monitored by the attorney general’s office for the next three years.
“The safety and security of our guests, which includes protecting guest information, is our top priority, and we are pleased to be able to reach resolution in this matter,” she said, according to the Associated Press.
Anyone who stayed at one of the seven Motel 6 locations identified by the attorney general’s office between Feb. 1, 2015, and Sept. 17, 2017, can submit a claim for restitution at www.atg.wa.gov/motel-6-settlement-claim-information. The settlement fund will provide about $10.25 million to affected guests and will be distributed by the attorney general’s office. People who submit a claim do not have to disclose their immigration status.