Popular budget hospitality chain Motel 6 will pay damages of $10 million to former guests with Spanish-language surnames who were targeted in the company's cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. The immigrant rights group behind the lawsuit hopes the penalty will impress upon other companies in the United States the potential legal ramifications of essentially funneling clients—typically people of color—to ICE.
A Motel 6 spokesperson confirmed to Pacific Standard that, late last week, the company filed a revised version of an earlier settlement, in which the company agreed to pay $7.6 million in damages to guests interrogated or detained by ICE agents during their stay at Motel 6.
The $10 million settlement currently pending consideration in an Arizona federal court is one of several such instances where private enterprises have paid for cooperating with ICE. In April, Motel 6 settled a similar suit on behalf of Washington plaintiffs brought by the state's Attorney General Bob Ferguson for $12 million.
In November, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund filed suit against Motel 6 on the grounds that, among other violations of the law, when franchises regularly handed guests lists over to ICE and allowed agents to knock on hotel room doors, it had helped the agency target guests of Latinx origin for the sort of unreasonable search and seizure prohibited by the Fourth Amendment. The revised settlement of $10 million raises the minimum amount of damages per individual from $50 to $75, after a judge ruled that $50 was not a sufficient amount to encourage potentially undocumented plaintiffs to come forward to seek restitution, Bloomberg reports. The settlement, set for approval by a judge later this month, also requires that Motel 6 not submit guest information to immigration authorities without a warrant for a period of three years.
Motel 6 expressed contrition over its former practice of aiding ICE in investigating and deporting its guests. "Motel 6 fully recognizes the seriousness of the situation and accepts full responsibility for both compensating those who were harmed and taking the necessary steps to ensure that we protect the privacy of our guests," the spokesperson says. "Since this issue emerged, we've taken strong action to make sure a similar issue never happens again in the future."
MALDEF president and general counsel Thomas A. Saenz calls the new offer "an improved settlement." "We hope we can move forward swiftly with allowing those who were harmed by Motel 6's cooperation with ICE to make claims and receive compensation," he says.
Many guests affected by Motel 6's cooperation with ICE will need to use that compensation for legal counsel as they face deportation proceedings, which can cost as much as $300 per hour, according to industry estimates.
Beyond the restitution for the guests, Saenz hopes the settlement will send a message to other companies. "Part of the reason we undertook the case as a nationwide class action was to deter others from cooperating with ICE in a matter that violates the rights of their own customers," Saenz says. "We still hope the size of the settlement and the fact Motel 6 is adopting strong policies against cooperation will convince other private enterprises that they should avoid cooperation."
Other companies have also come under fire for allegedly not doing enough to protect patrons from being targeted by immigration authorities, particularly at a moment when those authorities are responding to the Trump administration's calls to ramp up deportations. In October, bus transport giant Greyhound came under fire for Customs and Border Patrol searches aboard its vehicles. A Greyhound representative told Pacific Standard at the time that it had no say in the matter, but immigrant rights advocates including the American Civil Liberties Union disagreed. Weeks later, the company faced a class-action lawsuit over the immigration enforcement aboard its buses. Meanwhile, reports of such enforcement are still ongoing.
In February, Pacific Standard reported that California Assembly member Rob Bonta had introduced a bill that would bar the state from contracting with companies that work with ICE. That bill has yet to pass the Assembly for consideration by the whole state legislature.
Experts believe the increased settlement will act as a greater deterrent. "There always is some pressure on private parties and entities to cooperate with law enforcement," explains immigration law professor and dean of the University of California–Davis School of Law Kevin Johnson. "I think that the Motel 6 settlement will likely increase the reluctance of businesses to provide customer information to Immigration and Customs Enforcement."
Ferguson, Washington's attorney general, agreed that the damages stand to send a message to other enterprises willing to collaborate with ICE to the detriment of their own customers. "Motel 6's actions tore families apart and violated the privacy rights of tens of thousands of Washingtonians," Ferguson says. "Cases like ours, and this class-action case in Arizona, send a message to anyone that would unlawfully share people's personal information with ICE, or anyone else."
Saenz is also confident that penalty will serve to discourage private enterprise from compliance with immigration authorities. "As this [settlement] demonstrates, there are serious consequences when companies cooperate with ICE against its own customers," he says.