Senate Intern Discoverd To Be Illegal Immigrant, Sex Offender

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Dec. 13 2012 1:23 PM

Senate Intern Discoverd To Be Illegal Immigrant, Sex Offender

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U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez gives his victory speech flanked by son Robert, Jr. and daughter Alicia at election night headquarters

Photo by Stephen Chernin/Getty Images.

It looks like Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez could have been the subject of an actual October Surprise, or at least one that came closer to living up to that billing than any number of over-hyped events that quickly fizzled prior to this year's elections.

The Associated Press reports that the Homeland Security Department was notified in early October that one of the New Jersey lawmaker's interns was an illegal immigrant and registered sex offender, but officials directed federal immigration agents to wait until last week to arrest him.

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The intern in question, 18-year-old Luis Abrahan Sanchez Zavaleta, is originally from Peru and had applied for permission to stay in the country as part of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. His application, however, was denied because of the sex offender classification he acquired as a juvenile in 2010. (It is not clear exactly how Zavaleta became registered as an offender because he was under 18 at the time of the crime.) He now faces deportation.

For his part, Menendez says that he and his staff and nothing to do with the apparent slow-down:

Menendez, who advocates aggressively for pro-immigration policies, was re-elected in November with 58 percent of the vote. He said his staff was notified Monday, and he personally learned about the case from AP’s reporting and knew nothing about whether DHS delayed the arrest. The senator said his staff asks interns whether they are in the country legally but cannot check to be sure.

Menendez was the subject of a Daily Caller expose just before the election that, using anonymous sources, accused the New Jersey lawmaker of paying two women for sex in the Dominican Republic earlier in 2012. The senator's office denied those accusations and he went on to win re-election in November. While it's unlikely that having an intern arrested in the weeks before the election would have prevented Menendez from winning another term, it likely would have caused a significantly bigger headache for him than the short-lived alleged sex scandal, especially if word would have gotten out that someone in the chain of command apparently was trying to keep the case under wraps until after electon day.

Abby Ohlheiser is a Slate contributor.

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