Tue | Jun 22, 2021

Hotels caught in fight over housing detained migrants

Published:Tuesday | July 23, 2019 | 12:11 AM
In this July 8, 2019 file photo, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers place a man in handcuffs and ankle cuffs during an operation in Escondido, California.
In this July 8, 2019 file photo, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers place a man in handcuffs and ankle cuffs during an operation in Escondido, California.

There’s a new target in the clash over immigration in the United States (US) hotels: Advocacy groups and unions are pressuring Marriott, MGM and others not to house migrants who have been arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers (EU).

For decades, the US government has occasionally detained migrants in hotels, and Acting ICE Director Matthew Albence says it might have to split up families if hotels don’t help.

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

American and United Airlines said last year that they did not 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 criticised Enterprise for renting vans to federal agents and PNC Bank for funding private detention centres.

Hotels don’t like to wade into politics. They’re used to accepting business without questions and tuning their lobby televisions to non-political channels. They’re also used to working with the government, whether to host displaced flood victims, defence 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 that 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 centres 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 utilise 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.

The Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy last year led to the separation of families at the southern border, igniting widespread outcry before it was abandoned.

One national chain, Motel 6, faced lawsuits after it was accused of sharing guests’ names with immigration authorities.

ICE wouldn’t say whether it’s now using hotels to detain migrants.