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Nevada bill would keep hotels, motels from sharing guests’ immigration status

Updated March 13, 2019 - 9:27 pm

CARSON CITY — A bill forbidding Nevada hotels and motels from giving law enforcement agencies details on the immigration status, citizenship or nationality of their guests without a warrant is likely to get some tweaks, partly to address concerns that it might discourage crime reporting.

Senate Bill 229, sponsored Sen. Mo Denis and Assemblyman Edgar Flores, both Las Vegas Democrats, and three other lawmakers, comes in response to incidents in Washington and Arizona in 2017 where Motel 6 employees gave full guest lists to Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents. Agents reviewed the lists for Hispanic-sounding surnames and ran those names through a database for possible violations. An unknown number of people were detained on immigrations charges and deported.

Motel 6 agreed to pay $7.6 million to settle a class-action lawsuit brought in Arizona by affected guests. A separate lawsuit is pending in Washington.

In a bill hearing Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, sponsors said the measure would prevent the kind of fishing expedition seen in Washington and Arizona, where people “are turning into immigration agents in private industry,” Denis said. The bill would authorize people to sue if their personal information is improperly released.

In response to questions from the panel, Denis and Flores said the bill would not interfere with routine police work, such as investigating whether a hotel guest is in possession of a stolen vehicle or had committed another crime.

“What we’re trying to avoid here … is a hotel or motel just randomly giving out lists of private information to federal immigration authorities,” Denis said.

The measure drew support at the hearing from Hispanic groups and immigration rights advocates, but police agencies spoke in opposition out of concern that it could discourage proprietors and others from volunteering information on possible criminal activity.

Police often investigate based on reasonable suspicion, which is below the probable cause standard required to obtain a search warrant, said Chuck Callaway of the Metropolitan Police Department.

The bill remains pending before the committee.

Contact Bill Dentzer at bdentzer@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-0661. Follow @DentzerNews on Twitter.

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