Amnesty ‘Absolutely’ Must Be Part of Immigration Reform, Says Senator Who Had Illegal Intern

January 28, 2013
By Matt Cover

( – Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said that some kind of pathway to citizenship “absolutely” must be part of immigration reform. Immigration officials arrested an illegal immigrant and convicted sex offender interning for Sen. Menendez in December.

“Absolutely,” Menendez said on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday, when asked if a pathway to citizenship was necessary. “Latino voters in – first of all, Americans support it in poll after poll. Secondly, Latino voters expect it. Thirdly, Democrats want it. And fourth, Republicans need it.”

Luis Abraham Sanchez Zavaleta was arrested at his home in New Jersey on December 12, after overstaying his visa. Sanchez was convicted in 2009 of sexually assaulting an eight-year-old boy, forcing him to register as a sex offender.

Sanchez got the attention of immigration authorities when he tried to apply for President Obama’s executive amnesty program in 2012, despite being ineligible.

Department of Homeland Security officials disputed reports that they delayed arresting Sanchez on immigration violations until after Menendez was reelected for fear that the story would spark a media and congressional firestorm.

Menendez’s spokeswoman said that he and his staff had no knowledge of Sanchez’s immigration or sex offender status.

“No staff member responsible for managing the internship program had reason to believe, based on their interview process, that Sanchez had any criminal background or immigration issues. Clearly, Mr. Sanchez sought to deceive our staff. Upon notification from authorities of his arrest, Mr. Sanchez’s relationship with our office immediately ended,” Menendez spokeswoman Patricia Enright told Roll Call.

Enright also said that the incident underscored Menendez’s belief that immigration reform should have “zero tolerance” for criminals.

“Sen. Menendez believes this incident underscores the reason we need comprehensive immigration reform that provides zero tolerance for those who have criminal records.”

Menendez himself told “This Week” that “looking at making sure employers don't hire individuals who are undocumented” would also be part of the immigration reform proposal that he and a bipartisan group of senators known as the Gang of Eight would be pushing for in the new Congress.