US hotels push back on ICE request to house detained migrants

Hotels are the newest focus of the immigration debate.

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U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers have occasionally detained migrants in hotels in the past, but advocacy groups and unions are pressuring hotels to avoid the practice.

However, Acting ICE Director Matthew Albence said the agency might have to split up families if hotels don't help.

Hotels don't like to wade into politics. They're used to accepting business without questions and tuning their lobby televisions to nonpolitical channels. They're also used to working with the government, whether to host displaced flood victims, defense contractors or conferences.

But when the Trump administration announced immigration arrests targeting families the weekend of July 13 and said it might use hotels, the big companies responded. Marriott, Hilton, Choice Hotels, Best Western, Wyndham, Hyatt, IHG and MGM Resorts all released statements saying they don't want their hotels used to detain migrants.

Hotels felt pressure from their unions — which represent thousands of immigrants — as well as from customers angered by recent scenes of overcrowding and other squalid conditions at detention facilities.

"Hotels are meant to welcome people from all over the world, not jail them," said D. Taylor, president of the hotel workers union Unite Here.

The companies also needed to reassure customers that their properties are safe and not overrun by armed guards watching migrants, said Daniel Mount, an associate professor of hospitality management at Pennsylvania State University.

So far, there's been little evidence of widespread arrests.

But the hotels' stance frustrates Albence. He said ICE uses hotels "strategically" to keep families together before transferring them to detention centers or deporting them. As of July 16, the agency had 53,459 individuals in custody, including 311 members of families.

"If hotels or other places do not want to allow us to utilize that, they're almost forcing us into a situation where we're going to have to take one of the parents and put them in custody and separate them from the rest of their families," Albence told The Associated Press in a recent interview.

TickerSecurityLastChangeChange %
MARMARRIOTT INTERNATIONAL INC.132.98+0.27+0.20%
MGMMGM RESORTS INTERNATIONAL31.70-0.12-0.38%
HLTHILTON WORLDWIDE HOLDINGS INC.99.08-0.18-0.18%
CHHCHOICE HOTELS92.01-0.35-0.38%
WYNDWYNDHAM DESTINATIONS INC47.53-0.06-0.13%
HHYATT HOTELS77.41-0.84-1.07%
IHGINTERCONTINENTAL HOTELS GROUP PLC59.99-0.09-0.15%

ICE wouldn't say whether it's currently using hotels to detain migrants.

Despite corporate positions, individual hotels might still work with ICE. Franchisees run 88 percent of hotels in the U.S., according to data firm STR, and their franchise agreements don't expressly prohibit detained migrants -- though those agreements could be changed in the future to restrict the practice.

Contracts with the government can be lucrative. According to federal contract listings, Quality Suites San Diego Otay Mesa, near the Mexican border, could earn $502,900 between 2016 and 2020 housing migrants for ICE.

Available data suggest the government detains migrants at hotels on a limited basis. On a November 2017 list of government detention facilities, just 12 of the 1,685 sites were hotels. The list, obtained by the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, also includes county jails and hospitals.

Only one of those hotels — the Quality Suites — had recently housed more than three migrants. It had as many as 120 detained migrants at one time in fall 2017.

The hotel's general manager didn't respond to several requests for comment from the AP.

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This the latest example of a private industry caught in the political fray of an overtaxed immigration system.

American and United Airlines said last year they didn't want to fly migrant children separated from their parents. Greyhound told authorities to stop dropping off immigrants inside its bus stations. More recently, immigration groups have criticized Enterprise for renting vans to federal agents and PNC Bank for funding private detention centers.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.