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Immigration agents waited to arrest intern, documents show

WASHINGTON — 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 Senator Robert Menendez, according to internal agency documents provided to Congress.

The Homeland Security ­Department said last month, when the delayed arrest of Luis Abrahan Sanchez Zavaleta was first disclosed, that AP’s report was ‘‘categorically false.’’

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Sanchez, 18, was an immigrant from Peru who had overstayed a visitor visa.

He eventually was arrested at his home in New Jersey on Dec. 6.

He has since been released from an immigration jail and faces deportation. Sanchez has declined to speak to the AP.

After the AP report, which cited an unnamed US official, Senator Charles Grassley of ­Iowa and six other Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee asked the Obama administration for details about the incident.

According to those documents, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in Newark had arranged to arrest Sanchez at the local prosecutor’s office on Oct. 25. That was less than two weeks before the election.

Noting that Sanchez was a volunteer in Menendez’s Senate office, immigration officials in New Jersey advised that the arrest ‘‘had the possibility of garnering significant congressional and media interest’’ and “to postpone the arrest’’ until officials in Washington gave approval. The documents describe a conference call between officials in 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.

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