Sometimes the headlines just write themselves. Breaking news from the Associated Press:
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 has overstayed a visitor visa that allowed him to enter the United States. 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.
Those pesky Republicans! Always fretting over the little details.
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.
This all few under the “low-information voter” radar, but everyone aware of the story detected the stink of politics around it. At least it’s good to have the feds stop denying it, right? Except they haven’t:
In a letter Monday, Assistant DHS Secretary Nelson Peacock said an allegation that the government delayed Sanchez’s arrest “for political purposes” was categorically false. Neither the unnamed U.S. official cited in AP’s original story or the senators in their letters to the department had specifically alleged that the arrest had been delayed for political purposes. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because this person was not authorized to discuss details of Sanchez’s immigration case, told AP last month that the department had instructed federal agents not to arrest Sanchez until after Election Day.
The documents provided to Congress do not indicate why the arrest should have been delayed or whether anyone outside Immigration and Customs Enforcement ??? such as in the headquarters offices of the Homeland Security Department ??? was consulted.
Sanchez, by the way, was “15 when he was arrested on a charge of aggravated sexual assault in 2009,” which involved “assaulting an 8-year-old boy at least eight times.” No reason to fuss over the immigration status of someone like that, what with Super Storm Sandy and the election and all those other distractions. It looks like Super Storm Sandy still figures prominently in the official excuse for delaying Sanchez’ arrest, even though that’s hard to square with concerns about “congressional and media interest.”