Unless you’re an attorney, it is possible that you’ve never perceived a state’s attorney general as a “hero.” But we’ve seen, time and time again, particularly in the past year or so, that the office can provide critical assistance to those in need. Whether it is fighting Muslim bans or pushing back hard against attempts to lash out at cities trying to keep their residents safe, attorneys general have been in the news fighting the good fight in the last year.
And now this week, we see Washington’s attorney general step up once again for what is right by suing Motel 6, in his state, for allegedly giving guest information to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents based on racial profiling and bigoted stereotypes.
Imagine if you had been one of the thousands of “guests” at Motel 6, handing over your hard-earned money to pay for a room for the night or longer. Unbeknownst to you, they take your money but betray your privacy, sharing your information without a warrant with ICE, and suddenly you are in the crosshairs. Talk about a betrayal of trust through discriminatory practices, a violation of one’s privacy and blatant abuse of the consumer protection laws! When a guest stays at a hotel, they do so with the expectation that the innkeeper has their best interests in mind.
NPR reports that Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson “told reporters that employees of the national budget chain divulged the names, birth dates, driver’s license numbers, license-plate numbers and room numbers of more than 9,000 guests to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. The agents did not have warrants.”
NPR goes on “The lawsuit, filed in King County Superior Court, said the motel employees’ actions — all in the Puget Sound region and at corporate-owned properties — violated state consumer-protection law. Washington’s Supreme Court established that guest-registry information is private, Ferguson said, and Motel 6 violated the law each time it gave out private information.”
We first heard about the Motel 6 issue last year when a news outlet in my home state of Arizona, the Phoenix New Times, reported that the motels locally had set up at least 20 people for arrest by ICE by sharing private information. You know who blew the whistle on this terrible practice? Immigration attorneys who saw a possible pattern when their clients were detained after staying in a Motel 6. So the national Motel 6 sent a directive to its locations around the country telling them to stop proactively sharing information about guests with ICE sans warrant. But, it truly begs the question why was Motel 6 engaging in this practice in the first place? Was there a directive coming from their national headquarters, or was it just by coincidence that some rogue locations were engaging in this atrocious practice?
The New Times story got the attention of AG Ferguson’s office who started looking into whether similar shenanigans were occurring in WA state. Yep, they were. Per the AG’s suit, at least six hotels were “routinely” providing lists of guests to ICE, and at least “least six people suspected of being in the country illegally were detained as a result.”
During a time where the current administration has created a system that attacks hard-working immigrants, there are still some heroes out there fighting for what’s right. The justice system is one of our last forms of protection for those being targeted based on their racial profile or national origin by both the government and private businesses. The media is another.
In this case, we can be thankful for both the media and a bold attorney general for exposing this pattern of abuse and serving as a protector for the immigrant population. While we wait to see if other state AGs will follow suit, I will kick-off this new year by toasting the New Times, and both Washington State AG Ferguson and Assistant AG Mitchell A. Riese, for doing what is right when there is so much wrong to lament. You are all heroes in my opinion. The United States will need more heroes in the near future!