Motel 6 isn’t earning positive PR for its response to being thrust in the spotlight.
The chain recently responded to allegations that workers at one of its Phoenix-area locations were alerting immigration officials when undocumented guests were staying there.
The Phoenix New Times reported that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials detained Manuel Rodriguez-Juarez at the Motel 6 in June. The site further reports that 20 such arrests have been made at the Motel 6, along with another location, between February and August.
The article implied (and sources suggested) that motel employees have been sending information to ICE when they suspect that undocumented immigrants have checked in. Rodriguez-Juarez reportedly gave his Mexican voter ID card as identification when checking in.
ICE did not confirm to the New Times whether it had received the tips from Motel 6 staff, but employees spilled the beans.
“We send a report every morning to ICE—all the names of everybody that comes in,” a desk clerk told the New Times. “Every morning at about 5 o’clock, we do the audit and we push a button and it sends it to ICE.”
In the story’s wake, Motel 6 released the following terse statement to journalists and on social media:
Statement Regarding Recent Media Reports on Phoenix-area Location pic.twitter.com/MPxaspNA6b
— Motel 6 (@motel6) September 14, 2017
Several have criticized the motel’s brief statement, which has since been followed by silence. Both of the Motel 6 locations are corporate-owned and located in Latino neighborhoods.
Innkeepers routinely comply with search warrants and other court orders when law enforcement agents seek customer data and may reveal customer information when police are summoned to a property for an emergency or other public-safety situation. But the largest U.S. hotel trade group says most lodging companies prohibit the voluntary offer of such data. Rosanna Maietta, a spokeswoman for the American Hotel & Lodging Association, said guest and employee privacy is a “high priority” for the industry.
“We understand that the standard practice is that guest information of any type is not turned over to anybody asking for it absent a subpoena or other compulsory process, except under extenuating circumstances such as when the safety of other guests comes into question,” she said.
Legally, there could be constitutional violations if ICE agents enlisted the help of Motel 6 operators, effectively making them agents of the government. Additionally, state privacy laws could mean civil or criminal penalties for motels who disclose customer information.
How would you advise the chain to proceed from here, PR Daily readers?