Bob Menendez Intern Arrested: Undocumented Immigrant, Registered Sex Offender Faces Deportation

Alicia A. Caldwell, Huffington Post, December 12, 2012

U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez employed as an unpaid intern in his Senate office an undocumented immigrant who was a registered sex offender, now under arrest by immigration authorities, The Associated Press has learned. The Homeland Security Department instructed federal agents not to arrest him until after Election Day, a U.S. official involved in the case told the AP.

Luis Abrahan Sanchez Zavaleta, an 18-year-old immigrant from Peru, was arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in front of his home in New Jersey on Dec. 6, two federal officials said. Sanchez, who entered the country on a now-expired visitor visa from Peru, is facing deportation and remains in custody. {snip}

A spokesman for the Homeland Security Department, Peter Boogaard, said in an email to the AP that ICE followed standard procedures working with local prosecutors before taking what he called “appropriate enforcement action.” Boogard also said AP’s report was “categorically false.” He did not immediately respond to a request to specify what might be false.

Menendez, D-N.J., who advocates aggressively for pro-immigration policies, was re-elected in November with 58 percent of the vote. He said his staff was notified Monday, and he personally learned about the case from AP’s reporting and knew nothing about whether DHS delayed the arrest. The senator said his staff asks interns whether they are in the country legally but cannot check to be sure.

“We certainly wouldn’t have known through any background checks since he is a minor about any sex offender status,” Menendez said in an interview Wednesday with MSNBC. “Once it came to our attention, our New Jersey staff director let the young man go.”

{snip}

The prosecutor’s office in Hudson County, N.J., said Sanchez was found to have violated the law in 2010 and subsequently required to register as a sex offender. The exact charge was unclear because Sanchez was prosecuted as a juvenile and those court records are not publicly accessible. {snip}

Authorities in Hudson County notified ICE agents in early October that they suspected Sanchez was an illegal immigrant who was a registered sex offender and who may be eligible to be deported. ICE agents in New Jersey notified superiors at the Homeland Security Department because they considered it a potentially high profile arrest, and DHS instructed them not to arrest Sanchez until after the November election, one U.S. official told the AP. ICE officials complained that the delay was inappropriate, but DHS directed them several times not to act, the official said.

{snip}

Menendez said the arrest spoke to the need for comprehensive immigration reform that brings illegal immigrants out of the shadows.

“It does speak volumes about why we need comprehensive immigration reform,” the senator said. “I can’t know who is here to pursue the American dream versus who is here to do it damage if I cannot get people to come forth out of the shadows, go through criminal background checks and then determine who is here to pursue the dream and make sure that those who are here and have criminal backgrounds ultimately get deported.”

{snip}

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