Suit alleges Motel 6 discriminated against Latino customers

PHOENIX — A civil rights group sued Motel 6 on Tuesday, alleging it discriminated against some Latino customers at two locations in Phoenix by giving their whereabouts and personal information to U.S. immigration agents who later arrested at least seven guests.

The lawsuit by the Mexican American Legal Defence and Educational Fund said Motel 6 had a corporate policy or practice of giving Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents information that guests provided at check-in.

It also alleges that Motel 6 provided such information without requiring authorities to get a warrant or without having a reasonable suspicion that crimes were being committed.

“We are seeking to deter any (law enforcement) operation of this sort,” said Thomas Saenz, president of the civil rights group.

Motel 6 declined to comment on the lawsuit but said in a statement that it takes guests’ privacy seriously.

The national budget motel chain said in September that its Phoenix employees will no longer work with immigration authorities after the Phoenix New Times newspaper reported that workers were providing guests’ names to agents who later arrested 20 people on immigration charges.

In a tweet at the time, Motel 6 said: “This was implemented at the local level without the knowledge of senior management.”

Earlier this month, the Washington state attorney general sued the chain, saying it had violated a state consumer protection law by providing the private information of thousands of guests to immigration agents without a warrant.

The lawsuit alleged Motel 6 was aware that agents used the registration information to single out guests based on their national origin. Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s office began investigating after news reports about the Phoenix case.

The chain has said it had told its more than 1,400 locations that they were prohibited from voluntarily providing guest lists to immigration authorities.

The Phoenix lawsuit was filed in federal court on behalf of eight unnamed Latinos who stayed at two Motel 6 locations in the city during June and July. All but one of the eight was arrested.

ICE agents visited some of the guests at their motel rooms a day after they showed passports, driver’s licenses or identification cards issued by the Mexican government to Motel 6 employees, according to the lawsuit.

As a result, one woman was deported from the United States, while a man spent 30 days in a detention centre until he could raise a $7,500 bond. In two instances, ICE agents laughed when guests asked them whether Motel 6 had provided their personal information, the lawsuit said.

It said the eight guests had a reasonable expectation that their information would not be shared with federal authorities and alleged that the discrimination was made because of their race or national origin.

The Latinos who sued said they suffered emotional distress, fear and humiliation.

They are seeking undisclosed financial damages and are asking a judge to declare the information sharing a violation of anti-discrimination law and constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement wasn’t targeted in the lawsuit. Yasmeen Pitts O’Keefe, a spokeswoman for the agency’s operation in Arizona, declined to comment on it.

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