US hospitality chain Motel 6 provided US immigration authorities with guest lists in violation of anti-discrimination and privacy laws, according to a lawsuit filed by the Washington attorney general.
The lawsuit, filed on Wednesday, says that between mid-June 2015 and May 2017, more than 9,000 people staying at six Motel 6 locations in the state of Washington had their driver’s license numbers, license plates, date of birth and other forms of personal identification handed over to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, which handles deportations from the interior of the US.
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After receiving the guest list, ICE agents told Motel 6 employees the guests they were interested in, sometimes by “circling guests with Latino-sounding names”, the suit says.
Paul Quinonez, a volunteer with the Washington Dreamers Coalition, a non-profit advocacy group for young, undocumented people living in the US, told Al Jazeera the lawsuit “adds fuel to the flames of fear that have been growing for a long time”.
Over the last year, US President Donald Trump‘s administration has initiated a crackdown on undocumented immigrants, increasing deportations of those already in the US.
According to ICE statistics, the total number of interior deportations grew by 37 percent in 2017.
ICE also dramatically increased deportations of undocumented people without a criminal record during Trump’s first year in office.
Quinonez explained that rumours of motels and other businesses working with ICE have been circulating since February, when Ramon Flores-Garcia, a 43-year-old Mexican citizen, was apprehended by immigration officials while staying at a Motel 6 in Everett, Washington.
Flores’ wife Enedis told local media that her husband had lived in the US for more than 20 years before being deported by ICE. Flores is now in Puerta Vallarta, Mexico, leaving Enedis to provide for their seven children.
In September, immigration attorneys in Phoenix filed lawsuits against Motel 6 for giving guest lists to ICE.
“This was implemented at the local level without the knowledge of senior management,” Motel 6 said in a statement at the time. “When we became aware of it … it was discontinued.”
Quinonez argued that “it would be a pretty big coincidence that the same modus operandi happened in Washington as Arizona”.
He added: “We can’t take their word for it as we discover this is happening in another part of the country.”
Motel 6 had not responded to Al Jazeera’s request for comment at the time of publication, and has not issued a public statement on the lawsuit filed on Wednesday.
Revelations that Motel 6 was allegedly training its employees to hand over clients’ information to ICE upon request are increasing fear of discriminatory tactics, according to Quinonez.
ICE’s searching for “Spanish-sounding” surnames was discriminatory, Quinonez said, and giving immigration authorities “free access” to guests personal information “really stabs them in the back”.
In this case, applicable law would require a warrant or probable cause to divulge sensitive material, which ICE did not have, according to the lawsuit.
Without either of those legal requirements for divulging sensitive information, Motel 6 violated Washington’s Consumer Protection Act, the complaint alleges.
“Warrantless searches or random viewing of entire guest registries violates Washington law,” Anthony Anton, president and CEO of the Washington Hospitality Association, a trade group that represents over 6,000 members of the hospitality industry in the state, told Al Jazeera.
The actions described by the lawsuit are “not a standard practice”, Anton said.
“Hotels and lodging establishments in Washington state protect the privacy of their guests.”
For Quinonez, Motel 6’s cooperation with ICE in Arizona and allegedly in Washington are a call to continue working to end “the terror tactics” used by Trump administration.
“It’s all connected. This is what we’re fighting for.”