Sen. Bob Menendez said today he did not know that one of his unpaid interns was an illegal immigrant and that he could not have known that the intern was a registered sex offender, because the person was a juvenile.
“We ask status of all of those college interns … (it) didn’t indicate anything about his status and we certainly wouldn’t have known through any background checks because he is a minor about any sex offender status.” Menendez said in an MSNBC interview shortly after the Associated Press broke the news about the intern’s recent arrest and pending deportation.
Menendez said his staff first learned about the situation Monday and that he just learned himself Wednesday afternoon. The AP reported Wednesday that Luis Abrahan Sanchez Zavaleta, an 18-year-old immigrant from Peru, was arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Dec. 6 and is being held pending deportation. Zavaleta was a registered sex offender, AP reported, but his name is not in the public registry because he was prosecuted as a juvenile. It was unclear when Zavaleta committed his crime or what the crime was. He entered the country on a visitor visa that has since expired, AP reported.
The Homeland Security Department told federal officials not to arrest Zavaleta until after Election Day, according to AP, but the department said that wasn't true.
"The report is categorically false. ICE followed standard process in coordination with its federal partners and local prosecutors before taking appropriate enforcement action," said Peter Boogaard, a Homeland Security spokesman.
Menendez told MSNBC he did not have any knowledge about that delay.
“I didn’t know anything about the young man’s status until this Monday,” Menendez said, then added that his staff knew Monday and he found out Wednesday.
Menendez tried to turn the interview back to immigration reform, an issue that he is expected to take a leading voice on.
“It does speak volumes about why we need comprehensive immigration reform because I can’t know about 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 a criminal background check,” Menendez said.