Illegal Immigrant Sex Offender Was Employed By U.S. Senator

Senator Robert Menendez has some rather questionable hiring practices:

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez employed as an unpaid intern in his Senate office an illegal immigrant who was a registered sex offender, now under arrest by immigration authorities, The Associated Press has learned. The Homeland Security Department instructed federal agents not to arrest him until after Election Day, a U.S. official involved in the case told the AP.

Luis Abrahan Sanchez Zavaleta, an 18-year-old immigrant from Peru, was arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in front of his home in New Jersey on Dec. 6, two federal officials said. Sanchez, who entered the country on a now-expired visitor visa from Peru, is facing deportation and remains in custody. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss details of Sanchez’s immigration case.

A spokesman said the Homeland Security Department would provide a statement later Wednesday.

Menendez, D-N.J., 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.


Authorities in Hudson County notified ICE agents in early October that they suspected Sanchez was an illegal immigrant who was a registered sex offender and who may be eligible to be deported. ICE agents in New Jersey notified superiors at the Homeland Security Department because they considered it a potentially high profile arrest, and DHS instructed them not to arrest Sanchez until after the November election, one U.S. official told the AP. ICE officials complained that the delay was inappropriate, but DHS directed them several times not to act, the official said.

The are two problems here. First the fact that an illegal immigrant could be hired by a U.S. Senators office while they are supposedly unaware of his status. The second is why DHS would have instructed local officials not to arrest this man until after the election when there doesn’t seem to have been any rational explanation for such a delay. Quite honestly, it being New Jersey, I doubt it would have impacted Menendez’s re-election at all.

FILED UNDER: Borders and Immigration, Congress, Crime, US Politics, , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Brett says:

    Quite honestly, it being New Jersey, I doubt it would have impacted Menendez’s re-election at all.

    Ouch. Reminds me of that joke about New Jersey’s state motto: “My client is innocent of these politically motivated charges, and we will pursue a vigorous defense.”

  2. Jeremy R says:

    Two additional bits from the article. DHS denies the current allegation and apparently the Bush admin set a precedent here:

    A spokesman for the Homeland Security Department, Peter Boogaard, said in an email to the AP that ICE followed standard procedures working with local prosecutors before taking what he called “appropriate enforcement action.” Boogard also said AP’s report was “categorically false.”

    During the final weeks of President George W. Bush’s administration, ICE was criticized for delaying the arrest of President Barack Obama’s aunt, who had ignored an immigration judge’s order to leave the country several years earlier after her asylum claim was denied. She subsequently won the right to stay in the United States after an earlier deportation order, and there was no evidence of involvement by the White House.

    In that case, the Homeland Security Department had imposed an unusual directive days before the 2008 election requiring high-level approval before federal agents nationwide could arrest fugitive immigrants including Zeituni Onyango, the half-sister of Obama’s late father. The directive from ICE expressed concerns about “negative media or congressional interest,” according to a copy of that directive obtained by AP. The department lifted the immigration order weeks later.

  3. Barfour says:

    Even if Menendez was facing a serious challenge, the Department of Homeland Security should have done its job and allow the arrest to go ahead. It is wrong to put political considerations ahead of your job.

  4. Tsar Nicholas says:

    What is it about New Jersey? The “Torricelli switch.” Jon Corzine. Tony Mack. Now Bob Menendez. Newark. Camden. Trenton. Patterson. Did the ghosts of Tammany Hall move across the Hudson River? Geez. Honestly, if it weren’t for the New York Giants and for the prospect of that F1 street race I’d probably be in favor of exiling that entire state.

  5. Neil Hudelson says:

    Yeah, somehow I don’t think even a high-profile arrest would take away 9% of Menendez’s vote. Could it impact his fundraising? Most definitely. But that’s about all I can think of that it would do.

  6. Neil Hudelson says:


    You’d be in favor of exiling the highest concentration of America’s millionaires and billionaires? Odd…

  7. Just Me says:

    I don’t think the two are the same. If anything with the Bush admin saying wait it helped Obama rather than hurt him to wait.

    I am, however unconvinced it would have mattered. New Jersey in general doesn’t often seem to care about corruption.

  8. Franklin says:

    @Tsar Nicholas: … for the prospect of that F1 street race …

    Hmm, maybe you’re not so bad … on second thought, street races are usually boring parades. And NJ doesn’t have the scenery of Monaco.

  9. Whitfield says:

    What is the penalty for hiring someone who is in this country illegally ? The people have a right to expect the Congress and President to obey the laws.
    Why did they not check this guy out before they let him through the border ? Is there not some procedures that the immigration department has to follow ?

  10. Gromitt Gunn says:

    @Whitfield: He was an unpaid intern. Presumably there is not the same level of scrutiny as there are for paid employees.

  11. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Whitfield: I think the key term is “on an expired visa.” As to why ICE doesn’t follow up on whether people with expired visas have left, my guess is that it has to do with the number of visas and area in square miles of the 48 contiguous states compared to the number of agents employed. Otherwise, good question (I guess….)

  12. John Burgess says:

    @Just ‘nutha ig’rant cracker: There’s also the fact that the US does not have emigration controls as do many other countries. ICE only pays attention when you enter the country, not leave it.

  13. edmondo says:

    WTF is an “unpaid worker?” Is Menendez the Wal-Mart of Congressional offices?

  14. Andre Kenji says:

    That´s something that I´ve pointed out several times here: without ID cards it´s very difficult to impose immigration controls with ID cards. In most countries without an ID(In this case, a passport or a ID Card) you can´t get a job, enter a hotel or talk to the cops.

  15. HarvardLaw92 says:


    Every congressional office has unpaid interns working.

  16. Herb says:

    @Gromitt Gunn:

    “He was an unpaid intern. Presumably there is not the same level of scrutiny as there are for paid employees.”

    This is a good point.

    I think the fact that he was a Peruvian with a valid (at one time) visa and a command of the English language allowed him to escape more robust scrutiny.

    But an 18 year old sex offender? Makes me wonder if he’s the kind of sex offender who does sexually offensive things…or if he’s the kind of unlucky bastard who got caught having consensual sex with his slightly younger girlfriend. We’ll probably never know.

  17. sam says:


    What is the penalty for hiring someone who is in this country illegally ?

    I dunno. Why don’t you ask Mitt Romney. He self-confessed to hiring illegals. I’m sure he knows.

  18. Jenos Idanian Who Has No Pony Tail says:

    @sam: Romney didn’t hire illegals. Romney hired an American company that guaranteed it didn’t employ illegals, then was caught doing so. So Romney gave them a second chance, and they got caught again.

    And to an earlier aside… Barack Obama’s Aunt Zeituni is an illegal alien who, for years, lived in public housing. Barack Obama’s uncle Onyango (renamed “Uncle Omar” in his biography), is an illegal alien with a history of drunk-driving arrests. And their relation to the President had absolutely NOTHING to do with their continued flouting of the laws, I’m sure.

    Aunt Zeituni is so proud of her nephew, she even bragged of donating to his 2008 campaign — a donation that was allegedly returned when someone noticed that it’s illegal for foreigners to make contributions to political campaigns.

    And did I mention that both Aunt Zeituni and Uncle Onyango are still free and living in Massachusetts, with Zeituni still on public assistance?