Singhs say rooms weren’t rented to illegal immigrants

For about the past three months, word had spread that both Franklin and Cranberry Township had seen an influx of illegal immigrants.

The talk became more common during the past couple of weeks, with a lot of it via social media. Much of the attention focused on the Quality Inn in Franklin and the Holiday Inn Express & Suites in Cranberry, where the migrants were allegedly being housed after arriving by the “busload.”

“No idea how it started. I honestly don’t know,” said George Singh, who co-owns both establishments with his brother, Sunny, of the rumor. “Where is the busload?”

George Singh’s wife, Pally, works at the Quality Inn’s front desk with Kim Whitten. Both women said they have been inundated with phone calls on the subject to the point where some of the calls have been harassing.

“Do you have Mexicans staying there?” Pally Singh said she has been asked; Whitten said all the talk “is totally false.”

George Singh said he began to hear the rumors in mid-January.

“We have not, either in Franklin or in Cranberry, had any illegal immigrants. We have not even had any legal immigrants staying” at the hotels during that time frame. That information was verified, as the newspaper was granted a look at the bookings at both hotels from December through Feb. 21.

The “legal immigrants” of which Singh spoke are mostly those who have been granted permission to work in the U.S. He said companies that employ them — and “they all have IDs” — do so during the warmer months of the year for contracted work in the local area.

“Personally, it (the talk) didn’t bother me,” he said, “but when my employees come to me because they are being harassed, it bothers me.”

When people call to voice complaints about the Quality Inn renting rooms to illegal immigrants, Pally Singh said she tells them, “Are they illegal aliens or are they ghosts, because I don’t see them? Show them to me.”

Sunny Singh said the phones in Cranberry constantly ring. “People say (migrants) were dropped off by two buses at the Holiday Inn. I say, ‘If you believe that, come over and look.’”

His wife, Aman, who works the front desk at the Holiday Inn, said the many harassing calls that she received has prompted her to forgo the common-courtesy practice of identifying herself on the phone.

Business fallout?

The Singhs have been owners and operators of the Quality Inn for the past 23 years and opened the Holiday Inn Express & Suites in 2007.

George Singh said he doesn’t expect the rumors of both establishments renting rooms to immigrants who have crossed the U.S. border without documentation to hurt business at either of the hotels.

“Our business is mostly online, and 98% of people who stay with us are not local (residents). They come in from out of town because of a wedding, a funeral, an event,” he said. “For example, Komatsu will book rooms for contractors. I personally don’t think it will hurt business.”

However, he said, if the federal government were to ask him to rent rooms to illegal immigrants, he would not refuse.

“Provided the government would take responsibility for them, we would do it. We have to pay our bills. The only people we would refuse would be the ones who cause problems,” Singh said.

“Give me the law where it says I can refuse (to offer service). If we refuse, that could open us up to discrimination. Can McDonald’s or Sheetz refuse? The same law should apply to everyone.”

Pally Singh said, “What do you do? Ask someone, because of the way they look, if they are an illegal immigrant?”

Officials’ reactions

Franklin Mayor Doug Baker said he had heard second hand about the situation about a month ago and had regarded it as hearsay.

“I thought it had blown over, but Pally had reached out to me with her concerns with the phone calls they were getting,” he said.

“I have a background in law enforcement, and I was concerned for their safety. It takes one person who is a little bit off to do something stupid. That was my major concern.”

He said a couple of Franklin City Council members had heard about it as well, “but we really didn’t discuss it.”

Baker said he hopes the talk will now dispel because the Singhs are “good solid business people.”

Cranberry Township Supervisor Mike Deibert said township officials have had “no conversations, external or internal, regarding social media posts on the subject.

“I saw a post on Facebook in regard to this topic, but my personal thought is just because it’s a post does not mean it’s true,” he said. “As for myself and the other supervisors, we never discussed it.

“Hopefully, people will not refrain from patronizing (the Holiday Inn). The Singhs are private business owners “who are providing a service to the area, and I don’t want to see them fall victim to posts on Facebook.”

Venango County Commissioner Sam Breene said he and his fellow commissioners, Albert Abramovic and Ken Bryan, have received “a lot of calls” about the issue.

However, he said, “It’s also caused us to give thoughts on preparations on what we need to do if something does happen. Most importantly, our priority is to look out for our Venango County citizens and make sure our limited tax dollars are going to serve them.

“There’s no doubt there’s a genuine border crisis; it’s only responsible for us to be prepared if that situation arrives. There’s nothing wrong with being prepared.”