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 providing guests' names to agents who later arrested 20 of the people on immigration charges.
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."
Employees at a Motel 6 near a stretch of other budget motels, discount stores and fast food restaurants - refused to answer questions Thursday and referred all queries to corporate headquarters.
The news that Motel 6 workers in Phoenix were aiding 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 ACLU of Arizona tweeted separately: "Will new policy reflect this 'discountined' 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.
It's not the first time the chain has come under fire for providing guest lists to authorities.
A Motel 6 with a high crime rate in Warwick, Rhode Island, gave daily guest lists to police for several weeks in 2015 before the program was discontinued out of concerns for possible legal ramifications. Officers checked the names for outstanding warrants in an effort to curb crime at the motel.
The Warwick police chief said at the time that the information gathered ultimately was not worth the public scrutiny.
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, spokeswoman for the agency's local office.
Among those arrested by ICE in June at one of the Phoenix hotels was Jose Eduardo Renteria Galaviz, who on Thursday received a six-month prison sentence for re-entering the United States after having been deported. He will be deported again after serving his time.
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 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."