The Associated Press reports that an illegal-alien registered sex offender worked as an unpaid intern for New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez, and that DHS delayed arresting the individual until after Election Day. Menendez claims he did not know of the person’s criminal record or illegal status, and DHS denies delaying an arrest.
Menendez, a leading amnesty proponent in Congress, said his office was notified about the case on Dec. 10, but he knew nothing about the matter until AP broke the story on Dec. 12. Menendez told MSNBC, “We certainly wouldn’t have known through any background checks since he is a minor about any sex offender status. Once it came to our attention, our New Jersey staff director let the young man go.” He claims his staff asks interns about their legal status even though they cannot check to be sure. By law, new congressional employees must be run through E-Verify.
Luis Sanchez Zavaleta, an 18 year-old native of Peru, was hired about two months ago as an unpaid intern in the Senator’s Jersey City district office. He was hired as part of a college intern program, although he was not actually in college at the time. He had been accepted to Rutgers University but deferred his admission until January. Still, Rutgers recommended Sanchez for the internship.
Sanchez had entered the country on a visitor visa but did not leave when it expired. He committed the sex offense in 2010 but because he was prosecuted as a juvenile, the exact charge is not known. Court records for juveniles are not publicly available.
Hudson County, N.J. officials told New Jersey-based ICE agents in early October they suspected Sanchez was an illegal alien that could be deported as a registered sex offender. The agents informed their superiors because they thought arresting a congressional intern was a potentially high profile matter. However, according to one AP source in the government, their superiors told the agents not to arrest Sanchez until after the November election. The source told AP that repeated ICE complaints over the inappropriate delay did not sway DHS officials.
Peter Boogaard, a DHS spokesman, said the claims by AP's source are false. "ICE followed standard process in coordination with its federal partners and local prosecutors before taking appropriate enforcement action," he said in a statement.
While deliberating over when to arrest Sanchez, DHS officials reportedly reviewed Sanchez’s application for executive amnesty under the DHS Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. USCIS, which oversees DACA, says it notified Sanchez shortly before his arrest that he would not be eligible. Sanchez was arrested on Dec. 6 and is now in custody and facing deportation.
Menendez told MSNBC the Sanchez matter demonstrates the need for “comprehensive immigration reform.” He 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.” Menendez did not comment on whether, in retrospect, Sanchez should have been run through E-Verify to at least determine whether he was eligible to work in the United States.
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