Federal immigration agents were prepared to arrest an illegal immigrant and registered sex offender days before the November elections but were ordered by Washington to hold off after officials warned of “significant interest” from Congress and news organizations because the suspect was a volunteer intern for Sen. Robert Menendez, according to internal agency documents provided to Congress.
The Homeland Security Department said last month, when The Associated Press first disclosed the delayed arrest of Luis Abrahan Sanchez Zavaleta, that AP’s report was “categorically false.”
Sanchez, 18, was an immigrant from Peru who entered the country on a now-expired visitor visa. He eventually was arrested at his home in New Jersey on Dec. 6. He has since been released from an immigration jail and is facing deportation. Sanchez has declined to speak to the AP.
After the AP story, which cited an unnamed U.S. official involved in the case, Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa and six other Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee asked the Obama administration for details about the incident.
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.