By Matt Pearce
Washington's state attorney general sued Motel 6 on Wednesday, accusing the hotel chain of illegally giving information on thousands of guests to immigration enforcement officials who did not have warrants and who scrutinized guests with Latino-sounding names.
Motel 6 has faced scrutiny since September, when a Phoenix publication uncovered evidence that two Arizona locations had been regularly handing over guests' information to Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents who were on the lookout for immigrants staying in the country illegally.
Motel 6 _ which has more than 1,400 locations across North America _ disavowed the practice and said the information exchange was limited to "the local level without the knowledge of senior management."
But on Wednesday, Attorney General Bob Ferguson of Washington said his office launched its own investigation after the revelations in Arizona and discovered that "disturbing and unlawful" handovers were also routine at several corporate-owned Motel 6 locations in Washington state _ suggesting the practice was more widespread than the company had contended.
"It was not isolated to two motels in Phoenix, not by a long shot. The company's actions were methodical. They trained their new employees on how to do this," Ferguson said. "We're going to find out who at Motel 6 knew what, and when they knew it."
He said the names of "many thousands" of Washington residents and visitors staying at Motel 6 had been turned over to the federal government "without their knowledge, without their consent."
Ferguson said Motel 6 staffers told investigators that "the ICE agents circled any Latino or Latina-sounding names on the guest registry, and returned to their vehicles" to run background checks.
Ferguson's lawsuit, filed in King County Superior Court in Seattle, accuses Motel 6 of unfair and deceptive business practices and of violating Washington state privacy laws. It also alleges discrimination based on nationality.
The complaint asks for a permanent injunction forbidding the company from continuing the practice and for civil penalties and attorney fees.
In a statement, Motel 6 said it had ordered its locations in September not to hand over lists of residents to ICE without a warrant.
"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 company said.
ICE spokeswoman Yasmeen Pitts O'Keefe said in an email that she would not "disclose or discuss specific information related to the source of its enforcement leads" and declined to comment on the litigation.
"It's worth noting that hotels and motels have frequently been exploited by criminal organizations engaged in highly dangerous illegal enterprises, including human trafficking and human smuggling," O'Keefe added.
Tim Warden-Hertz, directing attorney of the Tacoma, Wash., office of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, a nonprofit advocacy group, called the attorney general's allegations "incredibly problematic" both for immigrants and on a personal level.
"When I go to the hotel, or when I pick up the phone, I don't expect that that information is going to be handed over to the government," Warden-Hertz said. "For a business to do this to their own customers is sort of baffling, and certainly I think should make people think twice about where they take their own business."
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