Washington State AG Sues Motel 6 For Handing Over Guest Registry Info To ICE

from the keep-it-in-your-proverbial-pants,-moteliers dept

At some point in the recent past, Motel 6 owners decided they were deputized law enforcement personnel. So what if people paid for a night’s worth of uninterrupted sleep and expected that visits from federal and local officials would be kept to a minimum. These owners — which the Motel 6 corporation takes great pain to point out are “independent” owner/operators — have decided to ingratiate themselves with untrustworthy organizations like ICE… or the local PD.

Some Motel 6s decided to fax guest lists to police departments every night. Others decided they’d turn over every name that looked slightly non-Caucasian to ICE. In both cases, Motel 6 (the corporation) brought the hammer down, swearing it had never given franchisees the permission to turn guest lists into tip sheets for law enforcement. The post-facto corporate rollback wasn’t enough for Washington’s Attorney General. The state looked into local policies after hearing about rogue ICE relationships in Arizona. It found more of the same occurring in Washington, resulting in a state lawsuit against company for turning guests list into ICE fodder.

The hotel chain Motel 6 routinely gave federal immigration agents guest lists with personal information that it used to make arrests, according to a lawsuit filed on Wednesday by Washington’s attorney general.

At least six Motel 6 locations in the state provided the information to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents — some on a near-daily basis — without any reasonable suspicion, probable cause or search warrants, the lawsuit charges. Agents would then single out guests by their national identity, at times circling “Latino-sounding” names on the list, according to the court complaint.

The lawsuit [PDF] requests an injunction preventing Motel 6 employees from passing on information to ICE agents without being provided with at least some legal reason to do (probable cause) by government agents. If this were filed at a federal level, it wouldn’t likely find a sympathetic court. A Supreme Court decision overturning a Los Angeles statute granting law enforcement constant, unchallengeable access is about the only restriction on sharing guest lists with law enforcement.

The allegations the Washington AG raises are concerning, but they’re not actually illegal… at least not under federal law.

Since at least 2015, Motel 6 has had a policy or practice of providing to ICE agents, upon their request, the list of guests staying at Motel 6 the day of the agents’ visit. The guest lists included some or all of the following information for each guest: room number, name, names of additional guests, guest identification number, date of birth, driver’s license number, and license plate number.

ICE’s usual practice was to come to Motel 6’s reception desk and request the guest list from the receptionist. The receptionist would print out the guest list and give it to the ICE agent, along with a “law enforcement acknowledgment form” for the agent to sign, acknowledging receipt of the guest list. The ICE agent would review the guest list and identify individuals of interest to ICE. Motel 6 staff observed ICE identify guests of interest to ICE, including by circling guests with Latino-sounding names.

On a number of occasions after reviewing the guest list, ICE agents arrested or detained Motel 6 guests.

Motel 6 trained its new employees to follow the practice described above to provide guest lists to ICE agents upon request, without requiring the agents to show any reasonable suspicion, probable cause, or search warrant for the guest registry information.

However, at the state level, this appears to be a violation of local statutes.

Motel 6’s privacy policy also states that Motel 6 may disclose guest registry information to law enforcement agencies pursuant to a court order or in compliance with any applicable law, regulation, rule, or ordinance.

Under Article 1, § 7 of the Washington Constitution, motel guest registry information constitutes a private affair protected from disclosure without probable cause. Motel 6 guests in Washington have a reasonable expectation of privacy that their guest registry information will not be disclosed to ICE without probable cause.

Motel 6 guests in Washington also have a common law right to the privacy of their guest registry information.

This is where the State AG hopes to prevent Motel 6 from using guest lists for ICE bait: at the state level where guest registry info is given more privacy protections than other places in the nation. It seems like ICE shouldn’t be too put out by having to show a little probable cause paperwork before it starts browsing registries, but the government doesn’t roll like that. It would be pretty easy for Motel 6 to get out from under this lawsuit. All it has to do is tell Washington franchisees to knock it off. It’s unclear what benefit Motel 6 receives from this possibly-illegal relationship with ICE. So why not just institute a policy that actually complies with local laws?

It certainly won’t make ICE happy. No federal agency likes having to ask permission from judges to perform searches. ICE is not a party to this lawsuit, but I’m sure it will find some way to make its presence felt. It may argue the Fourth Amendment does not require warrants to access third party records. Hopefully, the court presiding over this will remind ICE (and Motel 6) state laws can provide more protection than the Fourth Amendment without damaging federal authority. The Fourth Amendment is the baseline. Everything else above that — established at the local level — is a completely legal bonus for the state’s residents.

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Comments on “Washington State AG Sues Motel 6 For Handing Over Guest Registry Info To ICE”

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Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Subcontracting torture to other countries...

That’s the CIA and the military.

ICE is more than happy to use old fashioned J.-Edgar-Hoover-era police interrogation techniques, and at this point they have carte blanche to do so from the President of the United States.

And no-one outside the Department of Justice is overseeing their efforts.

Bergman (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It’s not unusual for states that became states decades after the country was founded to have constitutions that are more protective of rights than the US Constitution is.

Washington became a state in 1889, and our founders took important lessons from things like the Whiskey Rebellion and the Civil War. Our Constitution was written to eliminate shifting interpretations of language, that turned plain English statements from 1789 into weasel words a century later.

Federal statutes can override state statutes, but only the US Constitution can override a state Constitution. When any statute is in conflict with a Constitution, the statute loses.

Anonymous Coward says:

Why isn't ICE being prosecuted? I know why... just saying...

This seems like coercion by ICE agents to undertrained staff that don’t know the law. I can tell you if I was making $11 an hour as night shift reception and the only employee on the property, I sure as hell wouldn’t say no to an armed officer… not worth losing my job or being drug off to jail for ‘failure to comply’.

That is the unfortunate bit of this; I doubt that these owner/operators just all happened to think ‘well… I don’t like brown people or their business, so let’s go ahead and fax over their names to ICE…’ More than likely they were approached by ICE and told to… hell, they might have even been told NOT TO MENTION IT if they are going to go by the FBI’s gag-order playbook.

And like most 3 letter government acronyms… they share their little ‘tricks’ with other field offices and next thing you know, LOTS of Motel 6s are doing the same thing (This one didn’t put up a fight, I doubt the one in your state will either!)

Bergman (profile) says:

Re: Why isn't ICE being prosecuted? I know why... just saying...

ICE, as a federal agency, isn’t subject to state laws while acting in the line of duty. On a similar note, FBI agents don’t get speeding tickets while on the job.

Technically, ICE agents could be charged under federal laws — 18 USC 242 for example — but the decision to do so is made at the federal level, and the feds don’t see any useful purpose in reducing federal authority by enforcing inconvenient federal laws.

Jack L says:

selling info

If you subscribe to any magazine you will receive huge amounts of junk mail from the publisher trying to sell you other magazines. Eventually, they will sell the list to others.

State DMVs have been found to sell information. The phone company will sell your name and number even if you pay extra for an unlisted number. Hotels and airlines sell info on travelers.

I think the government is probably paying someone for this information. Until we have a privacy law making it clear that information gathered in the course of business cannot be sold, rented, loaned, or exchanged without a court order AND no contract can require the consumer to give up this right and remain a legal contract, we are all screwed.

We need a Euro style privacy law before it is too late!

Bergman (profile) says:

Re: Send them back

If your ancestors arrived by aircraft or boat, then you are a recent immigrant. The previous wave of immigration came over on foot about 20,000 years ago. Technically, they’re immigrants too, but they have a much better argument for belonging here, given they’ve been here about 15 times longer ago than even the arrival of the Scandinavians.

But here’s the basic fact of it: humans didn’t evolve in the Americas, and we’re ALL immigrants here.

In fact, on the topic of children of illegals shouldn’t be allowed to be here either, most of the European immigrants who came here were themselves illegals. A few leased land from the proper owners — Manhattan Island, for example — but when the lease ran out they refused to renew those leases and stayed as squatters. No different than staying on an expired visa or green card.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Because there are so many real citizens who seek hard labor at minimum wage.

With a net negative immigration from Mexico, many farmers can not get their crops in and face bankruptcy, but I’m sure there are many out there who are ready and willing to fill those vacancies.

Even the position of first Lady has been out sourced, apparently there are no citizens willing to perform that job at the moment.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Currently, yes.

> But under the modified immigration rules the Republicans are pushing to put
> in place, she wouldn’t be a US citizen.

Baloney. The Republicans aren’t pushing anything that would revoke citizenship from people who are actually citizens. It would be ridiculous to even try it since any such law would be prima facie unconstitutional.

> And if they make those rules retroactive, she’d be stripped of her
> citizenship on the spot, and any of her children would be as well.

Only in your kindergarten view of the world. Out here in the real world, no one at all is trying to do that and it couldn’t be legally done even if Lex Luthor or Skeletor wanted to try.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Lying or indifferent

In both cases, Motel 6 (the corporation) brought the hammer down, swearing it had never given franchisees the permission to turn guest lists into tip sheets for law enforcement.

Assuming they’re telling the truth here, seems they might want to keep a closer eye on their franchises, given part of the complaint indicates that they flat out trained their employees to do this.

Motel 6 trained its new employees to follow the practice described above to provide guest lists to ICE agents upon request, without requiring the agents to show any reasonable suspicion, probable cause, or search warrant for the guest registry information.

If Motel 6 is telling the truth and they don’t agree with the practice they apparently didn’t make their displeasure clear enough if it was still going on by those using their name.

Jose says:

8 USC 1324

Before you get all high and mighty. I would read 8 USC 1324 and 8 USC 1373. There are laws on the books that make it clear no one can harbor, or aid and abet illegals. Furthermore, 8 USC 1373 makes it illegal to not share information.

At the end of the day, illegals have zero right to be in the US. They are all free to leave. In case you bleeding hearts forget, being in the US illegally is a crime. If you are in violation of your immigration status, you deserve nothing but deportation. End of story.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: 8 USC 1324

Tell that to those who have served fighting our foreign wars, coming home with missing limbs … and for what – only to be deported.

Tell that to those who were told multiple times that all they needed to do was be good students, learn to be members of our great society – only to be deported.

Tell that to the family farms that rely upon migrant workers to get the crops in.

I think you have not given your opinion much thought at all.

cattress (profile) says:

Re: 8 USC 1324

I don’t have the patience to read convoluted technical code, but I feel confident that it does not dictate that any and every business, organization, affiliation, person or entity must obtain proof that any person(s) the entity conducts business or a voluntary transaction with is legally permitted to be in the US and that conducting business or transactions without verification of a person’s legal status equals aiding/abetting/harboring if the person’s status is found to be illegally present.
Being in the US without legal status is not a “crime”, it is civil violation, which is different.
It is not as simplistic an issue as you and many others wish to see it. Clearly the humanitarian aspect does not appeal to your cold heart, and I doubt you give a shit about the entirely broken system that forces people to cross the border undocumented in order to survive. Fortunately for you, you don’t have to open your home to or employ any immigrants- they don’t want anything from you. They don’t even want the US’s “welfare”- people who think this obviously don’t know how shitty our welfare system is, especially compared to the welfare states in most other first world nations. Actually, all that’s really needed from you is that you simply mind your own business and don’t raise hell when others fight to fix the system under some nonsense pretext that immigrants are in anyway harming your personal interests or the safety of the nation.
I’m a Libertarian and a humanitarian. Everybody needs to stop putting so much effort into controlling what others are doing and start focusing on their own actions.

The Wanderer (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: 8 USC 1324

Are you sure?

Entering the US illegally is certainly a crime, but from everything I’ve heard to date, being in the US illegally is not a crime.

“Returning illegally after being deported” would constitute entering illegally, and so would be a crime – but it would be the act of entering, not the fact of being in, that would be criminal.

If you have a citation to the contrary, I’d be interested to learn of it.

Bergman (profile) says:

Re: 8 USC 1324

A federal statute in conflict with a state Constitution causes the federal statute to lose. Unlike a state statute conflicting with a Constitution, the federal statute remains in effect rather than being struck down, it simply becomes unenforceable in that state. The only thing that can override a state Constitution is the US Constitution.

Every state Constitution had to be ratified by the US government before the former-territory could become a state, and that ratification means federal statutory supremacy doesn’t apply, only the supremacy of the US Constitution.

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