WASHINGTON (AP) - Democrat Sen. Robert Menendez employed as an unpaid intern in his Senate office an illegal 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 said.
A Homeland Security spokesman, Peter Boogaard, said Wednesday that it was "categorically false" that the department delayed the arrest of Luis Abrahan Sanchez Zavaleta, 18, until after the election.
Sanchez, an immigrant from Peru, was arrested by 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. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss details of Sanchez's immigration case.
Boogaard said in a statement that ICE followed standard procedures working with local prosecutors before taking what he described as appropriate enforcement action.
Menendez, D-N.J., was re-elected in November. He said his staff was notified about the case Monday, he personally learned about the case from AP's reporting and knew nothing about whether DHS delayed the arrest.
The prosecutor's office in Hudson County, N.J., said Sanchez 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.
Authorities in Hudson County notified ICE agents in early October that they suspected Sanchez was an illegal immigrant who was a registered sex offender. 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 election, one U.S. official said. ICE officials complained that the delay was inappropriate, but DHS directed them several times not to act, the official said.