AILSA CHANG, HOST:
The hotel chain Motel 6 has agreed to pay up to $7.6 million to former guests, all to settle a lawsuit after it was discovered that motel employees routinely handed guest lists to federal immigration officials. The information sharing led to the arrest and deportation of a number of Motel 6 guests. This practice was discovered late last year by reporters Antonia Farzan and Joe Flaherty of the Phoenix New Times. Joe Flaherty joins us now from Phoenix. Welcome.
JOE FLAHERTY: Thanks for having me.
CHANG: So remind us briefly how this lawsuit came about. What exactly was Motel 6 doing?
FLAHERTY: So Motel 6 locations in Phoenix we found were routinely given guests' information to Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials, which was leading to a number of arrests of undocumented guests. Now, when we broke that story, it became kind of a national news story. And the company quickly said that it was unaware of this practice and that it had ordered all of its motel locations to stop voluntarily providing guests' information to ICE as a result.
CHANG: And to be clear, this practice wasn't just happening in Arizona Motel 6s. It was happening elsewhere in the country, right?
FLAHERTY: Well, as a result of a lawsuit that was filed in the state of Washington, it seems like, yes, that was the case. The Washington state attorney general sued Motel 6 in January, alleging that a similar practice was going on there where thousands of guests' information was being turned over to ICE.
CHANG: OK, so in January, a legal advocacy group, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, sued Motel 6 and its parent company on behalf of eight anonymous Latino plaintiffs saying that the motel had basically violated their Fourth Amendment rights against illegal searches and seizures.
FLAHERTY: That's right. They were alleging that several laws were violated - the Fourth Amendment and a couple of Arizona laws related to consumer protection and privacy as well.
CHANG: OK, so now they got a settlement. And how will that money, that $7.6 million - how will that get divvied up?
FLAHERTY: This money is going to be divided up, if approved by the judge, to principally three different groups of people. The first is anyone who stayed at a Motel 6 location between last year and this year whose information was turned over to immigration authorities as a result of this practice. They could each receive $50. And then guests who were interrogated or questioned by ICE could receive a thousand dollars each, up to a million dollars for that whole group. And then guests who were placed in immigration removal proceedings could receive at least $7,500.
CHANG: People who were placed in removal proceedings - so we're talking about people who have been deported. How will they be found and be able to have a chance to get any of this money?
FLAHERTY: You know, it's a little bit unclear as of right now. When I talked to Thomas Saenz, who's the president and general counsel of MALDEF, on Monday, he emphasized that the administration of this settlement is going to be a long-term process. I think it's safe to say that it's going to be time-intensive and complicated...
FLAHERTY: ...To find people who might have been affected.
CHANG: So apart from entering this settlement, has Motel 6 responded publicly about this whole lawsuit and their payment?
FLAHERTY: Motel 6 and MALDEF released a joint statement announcing the settlement. It said that Motel 6 recognizes the seriousness of the situation and kind of reiterates the company's commitment to privacy of their guests. However, I should note that in the court filing for this settlement, the company continues to deny wrongdoing or liability. And they also deny that they had a policy that was discriminatory or unconstitutional.
CHANG: Joe Flaherty is a reporter for the Phoenix New Times. Thank you very much.
FLAHERTY: Thanks for having me - my pleasure.
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