PHOENIX (AP) -- Motel 6 says its employees in Phoenix will no longer work with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents following news reports that its workers were reporting on guests they believed were in the United States illegally.
In a tweet about reports first published in the Phoenix New Times, Motel 6 said Wednesday: "This was implemented at the local level without the knowledge of senior management. When we became aware of it last week, it was discontinued."
The news that Motel 6 workers in Phoenix were tipping off ICE agents immediately thrust the chain into the national immigration debate, with some detractors complaining about its vague and tepid statement.
Social media exploded with criticism and satire aimed at the budget motel chain, with some playing off its slogan "We'll leave the light on for you." "They'll leave the light on--for ICE and police," Cecilia Wang, national deputy director for the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a Tweet.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona tweeted separately: "Will new policy reflect this "discontinued" practice, @motel6? We look forward to reading it."
The hashtag #BoycottMotel6 began circulating while Latino political cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz drew and posted on social media a sketch of a Motel 6 with a sign reading: "Immigration Detention Camp."
Longtime Motel 6 pitchman Tom Bodett sent a tweet supporting the chain, saying: "If you've been vexed by the situation with @motel6 in Phoenix. Here is the response from their HQ. I had faith this was the case" and included the chain's statement. Some of Bodett's followers criticized him and called on him to slam the chain.
"Hey Tom Bodett...Still Wanting to Carry The Torch 4 That Flea Circus Chain @motel6?" one follower asked.
The weekly Phoenix New Times reported on Wednesday that ICE had arrested at least 20 people at two Motel 6 locations in heavily Hispanic areas of Phoenix, and quoted workers as saying they gave guest lists to agents. An ICE spokeswoman in Phoenix declined to confirm or deny that.
"Due to operational security, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) does not typically disclose or discuss specific information related to the source of its enforcement leads," said Yasmeen Pitts O'Keefe, the spokeswoman for the agency's local office.
She said ICE gets its tips "from a host of sources, including other law enforcement agencies, relevant databases, crime victims, and the general public via the agency's tip line and online tip form. Private citizens who provide enforcement leads to ICE are not compensated for the information."
Among those arrested by ICE in June at one of the Phoenix hotels was Jose Eduardo Renteria Galaviz, who was in court on Thursday to be sentenced for re-entering the United States after having been deported.
His attorney Robert McWhirter said it is legal for hotels to provide ICE agents with information about guests if they want to. But he said a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling prohibits authorities from forcing a hotel operator to relinquish a guest register without a warrant.
He said that Motel 6's statement issued showed that members of the chain's national management were probably unaware of what was happening in Phoenix and were concerned about the effect the policy could have on business.
McWhirter said the current flap said a lot about local attitudes toward immigrants.
Former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio gained national attention for his aggressive policies toward immigrants who are in the United States illegally, and President Donald Trump's get-tough attitude toward illegal immigration has been embraced by many in the Phoenix area.
"There's an attitude here where people think they can do this stuff and get away with it," said McWhirter. "And people like Joe Arpaio and Donald Trump encourage those views."
Statement from ICE:
"Due to operational security, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) does not typically disclose or discuss specific information related to the source of its enforcement leads. The agency receives viable enforcement tips from a host of sources, including other law enforcement agencies, relevant databases, crime victims, and the general public via the agency's tip line and online tip form. Private citizens who provide enforcement leads to ICE are not compensated for the information.
In carrying out their immigration enforcement mission, ICE deportation officers make arrests nationwide every day as part of the agency's ongoing efforts to ensure domestic security, public safety, and the integrity of our nation's borders. The agency's immigration enforcement actions are targeted and lead driven, prioritizing individuals who pose a risk to our communities. It's worth noting that hotels and motels, including those in the Phoenix area, have frequently been exploited by criminal organizations engaged in highly dangerous illegal enterprises, including human trafficking and human smuggling."
-Yasmeen Pitts O'Keefe, ICE Public Affairs Officer/Spokesman
Statement from Motel 6:
"Over the past several days, it was brought to our attention that certain local Motel 6 properties in the Phoenix-area were voluntarily providing daily guest lists to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). As previously stated, this was undertaken at the local level without the knowledge of senior management. When we became aware of it, it was discontinued.
Moving forward, to help ensure that this does not occur again, we will be issuing a directive to every one of our more than 1,400 locations nationwide, making clear that they are prohibited from voluntarily providing daily guest lists to ICE.
Additionally, to help ensure that our broader engagement with law enforcement is done in a manner that is respectful of our guests' rights, we will be undertaking a comprehensive review of our current practices and then issue updated, company-wide guidelines.
Protecting the privacy and security of our guests are core values of our company. Motel 6 apologizes for this incident and will continue to work to earn the trust and patronage of our millions of loyal guests."