Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey said Wednesday there was "no way" for him or his staff to know that an unpaid college intern in his office was in this country illegally and had registered as a sex offender.
Menendez told MSNBC that his staff learned of the situation on Monday and that he himself found out just moments before going on the program.
"I didn't know anything about the young man's status" before that, said the senator, a passionate advocate for a comprehensive overhaul of immigration policy, ostensibly the main subject of the interview.
The Associated Press reported on Wednesday that immigration authorities arrested Luis Abrahan Sanchez Zavaleta, an 18-year-old immigrant from Peru, last Thursday. Sanchez came to the United States on a now-expired visitor visa and may be deported. The exact nature of his sex-related offense was not immediately clear because it occurred when he was a minor, the AP said. The news agency cited an anonymous official as saying that the Homeland Security Department instructed federal agents not to arrest him until after Election Day.
"There's no way we could know about his status" from a standard background check because he was under 18 at the time of the infraction, Menendez told MSNBC. He also denied knowing anything about the alleged timing of the arrest.
The senator said the teenager had joined his office's "nonpaying college intern program" and "didn't indicate anything about his status" when he came aboard. "We have a whole bunch of college interns," the lawmaker said, adding that his New Jersey staff director had fired Sanchez.
"It does speak volumes about why we need comprehensive immigration reform, because I can't know who is here to pursue the American dream vs. who is here to do it damage" the senator said.