Last month, the Associated Press broke the story of a deliberate delay in arresting a sex offender who illegally overstayed his visa and neglected to update his offender registry — and who happened to be a volunteer in Senator Robert Menendez’s (D-NJ) office in New Jersey. Why did ICE delay in arresting and starting deportation proceedings against Luis Abrahan Sanchez Zavaleta until a few weeks after the election? The AP now reports that the discovery of Sanchez prompted a discussion with “Washington” that apparently handcuffed law enforcement:
Newly released documents show that federal immigration agents were prepared to arrest an undocumented immigrant and registered sex offender days before the November elections.
However according to the internal agency documents, the agents were ordered by Washington to hold off after officials warned of “significant interest” from Congress and news organizations since the suspect was a volunteer intern for New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez. …
According to those documents, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in Newark had arranged to arrest Sanchez at the local prosecutor’s office on Oct. 25. That was fewer than two weeks before the election.
Noting that Sanchez was a volunteer in Menendez’s Senate office, ICE officials in New Jersey advised that the arrest “had the possibility of garnering significant congressional and media interest” and were “advised to postpone the arrest” until officials in Washington gave approval. The documents describe a conference call between officials Washington and New Jersey to “determine a way forward, given the potential sensitivities surrounding the case.”
The senators, in a letter to the Homeland Security Department, said the agency documents showed that Sanchez’s arrest “was delayed by six weeks,” as AP had reported. They asked for details about the department’s review of potentially sensitive, high profile immigration cases when arrests are delayed.
First, one has to wonder what Menendez’ office does for background checks. Sanchez had not only overstayed his visa but had a presumably easy record to check as a sex offender. Even as a volunteer, wouldn’t that be something that a politician would like to know about the people staffing his home-state office?
Once that was discovered, either internally or externally, the normal impulse would be to get the offender out of the office. Instead, Sanchez tried to apply for Obama’s EO-fueled program to allow children of illegal immigrants to stay in the US, even though Sanchez had merely overstayed his visa:
The agency documents show that Sanchez failed to update his sex offender registration, and local prosecutors considered arresting him for that. During the same time, immigration officials learned that Sanchez had applied for the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which would have allowed him to stay in the country and legally work for two years. He did not disclose his arrest or status as a sex offender on the application and was eventually denied, according to the documents.
Did Menendez’ office help him out with that effort despite ICE interest in deporting the sex offender? That would certainly give some sort of hint as to why “Washington” told ICE to stand down, and who might have given that order. For his part, Menendez insists that he only found out about the case through the newspapers, but it’s at least curious that “Washington” would have intervened in this case without contacting the Senator for whom the suspect worked.
So now what we have is a Beltway whodunit. If this was done to spare Menendez public embarrassment during the Senate campaign, that may be a case of obstruction of justice. It’s certainly curious enough to require more investigation into just why “Washington” ordered ICE to delay its enforcement, and who gave that order.
Update: I changed the headline from “aide” to “intern” to reflect the AP description of Sanchez’ role.