Two Democratic lawmakers say they don’t want to see in Nevada what happened in Arizona and Washington in recent years: Employees of Motel 6 properties proactively turned over lists of customers to ICE agents — some of whom allegedly circled the names of guests with Hispanic-sounding surnames — and triggered some deportations.
During a hearing in the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee on Wednesday, Democratic Sen. Mo Denis and Assemblyman Edgar Flores discussed the details of SB229, a bill that seeks to ban an owner or operator of a hotel from divulging personal information about its guests “for any purpose relating to the enforcement of immigration laws.”
“The intent is not to prohibit law enforcement from being able to go after criminals that they … have a specific request for,” Denis said, noting that it wouldn’t prevent law enforcement from executing a lawfully obtained search warrant. “What we’re trying to avoid here, as was mentioned before, was just a hotel or motel from just randomly … giving out lists of … private information to federal immigration authorities.”
The bill drew support from the Nevada Hispanic Legislative Caucus — a group to which both Denis and Flores belong.
In September 2017, the Phoenix New Times reported that two Arizona hotels within the Motel 6 chain were routinely giving information about their guests to officials from ICE who didn’t have search or arrest warrants.
The actions resulted in arrests and deportations, prompting the Washington attorney general and the civil liberties organization Mexican-American Legal Defense Fund (MALDEF) to file a lawsuit in January 2018 on behalf of guests who were affected. MALDEF said in the lawsuit that Motel 6’s actions were racially discriminatory, unconstitutional and violated laws that protect privacy and consumer rights.
Officials in Washington, who also sued, said agents would visit the motels late at night or early in the morning to pick up a guest roster that included driver’s license numbers, room numbers, dates of birth and license plate information from the day’s guests. The complaint alleges that between 2015 and 2017, information from thousands of occupants was handed over and at least six guests were detained at or near Washington Motel 6 properties.
The motel chain agreed to pay $7.6 million dollars to settle a class action lawsuit. The agreement called for compensation to affected guests and tighter controls on the privacy of customer data.
Although Flores said he didn’t have evidence that similar actions have happened in Nevada Motel 6 establishments, the two lawmakers wanted to propose the bill because the state economy depends largely on the tourism industry maintaining a good reputation.
Christine Saunders, policy director of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada (PLAN), said that the bill would prevent racial profiling and invasions of privacy.
“This policy will ensure that everyone will feel welcome to visit the great state of Nevada, no matter what they look like or where they were born,” she said. The bill “upholds our values of dignity and respect for all people who visit or call home the great state of Nevada.”
But some members of the committee, including law enforcement and district attorneys, voiced concerns that the bill could interfere with federal immigration laws and affect major criminal investigations.
Chuck Callaway, lobbyist for the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, offered the example of an officer who finds a stolen vehicle parked in a specific spot in a hotel parking lot.
“The way this language … currently reads, it would prevent that hotel owner from telling the officer who’s in that room and providing information of who the suspect that’s in possession of that stolen vehicle may be,” he said.
He also said it could hamper investigations that have not yet risen to the level that would allow for a search warrant.
“The level required to obtain a search warrant or arrest warrant is probable cause,” said Callaway. “We investigate a tremendous amount of crimes at the level of reasonable suspicion … where we don’t have a search warrant or an arrest warrant to make contact with someone.”
Sponsors said the bill, which hasn’t yet come up for a vote, said customers should have a basic level of privacy even when it comes to law enforcement.
“This is a privacy issue. Every single person in this room should want that,” Flores said. “Nobody here should have their personal information disclosed simply because law enforcement asked for it. We’ve made that very clear. There’s laws all over the books on this.”