Washington State Sues Motel 6 Over Sharing Guest Immigration Data
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Motel 6 is being sued by Washington state. Several of its motels were accused of voluntarily and routinely providing guest lists to Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents. Motel 6 admits that several of its locations shared information about its customers with ICE. It is the second time the hotel chain has been accused of doing that. Last September, a reporter in Arizona uncovered similar practices in the Phoenix area. Bob Ferguson, the attorney general of Washington state joins us now.
Thanks very much for being with us, Mr. Ferguson.
BOB FERGUSON: Thanks for having me on, Scott. Really appreciate it.
SIMON: What was ICE doing with that information it got from Motel 6s?
FERGUSON: Well, it was fairly shocking. I mean, the hotel turned over the guest list of everybody staying at the hotel. So thousands of individuals had their names turned over to ICE. And according to our interviews with employees at Motel 6, ICE agents would circle the names that looked Latino sounding and ran those names through a database and then would detain individuals based on those random checks.
SIMON: So actual detentions were a result?
FERGUSON: We know of at least a minimum of six in Washington state. And I want to emphasize the numbers that I'll be referring to today are, we think, just the tip of the iceberg. We do not have complete information for Motel 6. But undoubtedly, the number of individuals impacted will go up as our investigation continues.
SIMON: What would you say to those people who might say - look, if people are in this country illegally it's the job of ICE to detain them?
FERGUSON: Well, there's a couple of things. Number one, ICE does have that responsibility. But motels have a responsibility, too. And that responsibility is that you have to live, number one, by your privacy promises. Motel 6 has a privacy statement. It says we're going to guard your private information. They did not do that here. You cannot do that under our consumer protection laws. And so, that's number one.
Number two, they turned over everybody who was staying at the motel. People stay at motels for all sorts of very private reasons. You could be the victim of domestic abuse fleeing your abuser. Do you want your information turned over to anybody who just happens to walk into that hotel? It's not right. Frankly, it pisses me off, and I'm not going to put up with it.
SIMON: We of course contacted Motel 6, and they said that in September of last year, they issued a nationwide directive that made it clear that their motels should not voluntarily provide guest lists to ICE. What do you say?
FERGUSON: Well, we don't know whether they did after that date or not. Our investigation essentially went up to the date in which that news broke. What I will say is that when the statement first came out from Motel 6, they did not even apologize for what they did. When folks were outraged by their statement, they then apologized. But they allowed people throughout the country to believe this was isolated to these two Motel 6s in Arizona and senior management knew nothing about it. I was skeptical of that. I asked my team to investigate. And we now know what they said - Motel 6 said back in September - was not true. It's far more widespread than they allowed the public to believe.
SIMON: Mr. Attorney General, while we have you, this week I feel I have to ask you a marijuana question.
FERGUSON: Sure. Everybody else is, so go right ahead.
SIMON: Recreational marijuana...
SIMON: ...Is legal in Washington state. The attorney general of the United States has said that the Obama-era policy of looking the other way when states legalize recreational use of marijuana is over. Citizens who use recreational marijuana in Washington state, are they going to be vulnerable to arrest?
FERGUSON: Well, I'm concerned. I don't want to alarm folks unnecessarily, but the views of Attorney General Sessions on marijuana legalization are well known, and his memo the other day is not helpful. I'm particularly troubled because I've tried repeatedly to have a meeting with Attorney General Sessions. He refuses that.
He has sent a letter to me and our governor with incorrect information about Washington state's legalization framework. That is troubling to me. We're trying to address serious issues here. He won't meet. He doesn't have his facts right, and that does lend an additional air of uncertainty over legalization of marijuana. That said, my job is to defend the will of the voters in my state, and we'll do everything in our power to make sure we protect businesses operating under the law here in Washington state.
SIMON: So no businesses are being closed up because of what the Attorney General Sessions said?
FERGUSON: Absolutely not. In fact, the people of my state should know we are doing everything in our power to defend them. If it comes to a legal fight with the Trump administration, we're prepared to have it. I've had some experience with taking on the Trump administration litigation. We have yet to lose a case yet, and I don't plan on starting with this issue.
SIMON: Attorney General Bob Ferguson of Washington state, thanks so much.
FERGUSON: Oh, thank you, Scott. Have a great day.
SIMON: And we contacted the Department of Justice for comment on Mr. Ferguson's remarks about Attorney General Sessions. We have yet to receive a response.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.