How a Senator's Illegal-Immigrant Intern Avoided Arrest Until After the Election

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The federal government delayed the arrest of an illegal immigrant interning for New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez until after the November election, a story previously reported by the Associated Press but now backed up by government documents. The Homeland Security department was worried the case "had the possibility of garnering significant congressional and media interest." The timeline is somewhat unclear, but judging from the Associated Press's report, the unpaid intern, 18-year-old Peruvian immigrant Luis Abrahan Sanchez Zavaleta, might have triggered his own arrest by applying to stay in the U.S. under President Obama's executive stopping the deportation of young illegal immigrants. Sanchez is a registered sex offender. The story is a little confusing, so here's what we know about the timeline:

2009: Sanchez, then 15 years old, is arrested on the charge of aggravated sexual assault after being accused of assaulting an 8-year-old boy. Sanchez gets two years of probation and has to register as a sex offender.

Mid-2012: Sanchez applies for the new Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, allows young illegal immigrants to stay legally in the country for two years. He did not disclose that he was a registered sex offender. Citizenship and Immigration Services formally denies his application. Separately, Sanchez had not updated his sex offender registration, and "local prosecutors considered arresting him for that," the AP reports.

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October 25: The date U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Newark planned to arrest Sanchez. But ICE officials note that arresting Sanchez "had the possibility of garnering significant congressional and media interest," according to documents reviewed by the AP, and "advised to postpone the arrest." Authorities discussed what to do in a conference call between New Jersey and Washington to "determine a way forward, given the potential sensitivities surrounding the case."

October 29: ICE officials discuss the case.

November 6: Menendez is reelected easily.

December 5: Sanchez's arrest is approved.

December 6: Sanchez is arrested.

December 12: The Associated Press breaks the story.

December 13: Menendez's staff tells him about Sanchez, according to the senator.

The story has tabloid appeal given that the term "sex offender" is involved. But Sanchez isn't being deported for a sex crime, at least not directly. He's being deported for being an illegal immigrant. He was not able to get a waiver for that under Obama's executive order delaying the deportation of immigrants brought to the U.S. as children because he didn't comply with laws that now require a kind of lifetime punishment for sex offenders, even if their initial sentences are relatively short. Rachel Aviv ad a fascinating look at the consequences of trying to predict which sex offenders will offend again in last week's New Yorker.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.