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Sanctury city debate stoked after rape at Maryland high school

Henry Sanchez-Milian was nabbed sneaking across the U.S. border in August, just 13 days shy of his 18th birthday.

Had he been 18, he might have been quickly deported back to Guatemala. Instead, he was given a court date, told to come back eventually, and released. He ended up in Montgomery County, Maryland, living with his father.

He now stands charged, along with 17-year-old Jose O. Montano, of raping a 14-year-old classmate at Rockville High School, in a case that is roiling the immigration debate and forcing a search for blame.

Some have pointed the finger at Montgomery County’s sanctuary policy, which generally protects illegal immigrants from being turned over to federal immigration authorities. Other analysts trace the situation back to President Obama’s lax enforcement policies, which allowed hundreds of thousands of young illegal immigrants to enter the U.S. and gain a foothold over the past four years.

“That type of stuff is happening all over the country every day,” Chris Crane, head of the labor union that represents U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and officers, told Congress on Wednesday.

The details of the crime are disturbing. In a graphic account, police describe the girl repeatedly pleading with her attackers to stop. They ignored her pleas and talked to each other in Spanish.

The two students’ path to Montgomery County isn’t entirely clear. Immigration officials say Mr. Sanchez-Milian was apprehended on Aug. 12 by a Border Patrol agent in the Rio Grande Valley, Texas — ground zero for the surge of the tens of thousands of “unaccompanied alien children,” or UACs in governmentspeak, who have made their way from Central America to the U.S. since 2013.

Mr. Sanchez-Milian, from Guatemala, was issued a court date and released. Though he was younger than 18, it’s unclear whether he was treated like other UACs. Under federal law and Obama administration policy, UACs are supposed to be processed quickly and released to parents, relatives or other sponsors.

Immigration officials wouldn’t say anything about Mr. Montano because of his age.

The local ABC station reported that Mr. Sanchez-Milian was living with his father while Mr. Montano was living with an uncle.

Both students face deportation once the Montgomery County case concludes, suggesting Mr. Montano is also an illegal immigrant. Neither had been snared by local police before, authorities said.

Brad Botwin, director of Help Save Maryland, a group that opposes illegal immigration, said he was disappointed. He said local officials shirked their responsibility and that their policies helped set the scene for the brutal attack.

The Obama administration’s polices on immigration opened the door for illegal immigrants, but Montgomery County officials have essentially rolled out the welcome mat for illegal border crossers by adopting sanctuary policies that make the county a safe haven, Mr. Botwin said.

“The system failed this girl, and the electorate failed this young lady,” he said. “If my kid didn’t have a polio shot, they wouldn’t allow my son or daughter to enter the school, but they’re telling me they aren’t screening them?”

Groups that work with local immigrant communities said children who come to the U.S. as immigrants, illegally or legally, deserve access to an education.

“It is good not only for the individuals, but for the society,” Fernanda Durand, a spokeswoman for Casa, a Maryland-based organization that helps provide resources for low-income Hispanic and immigrant communities. “We would not want a situation where a whole class of people was uneducated.”

She said it was unfair that anyone would exploit the attack to score political points.

“We think the pain of this woman should not be used by anyone to further their political views and to attack immigrants and to try to get immigrants out of this country,” Ms. Durand said.

The two rape suspects, who began classes in the county school system this fall, were enrolled in the Multidisciplinary Educational Training and Support program for English language learners with limited or no previous schooling. Neither Mr. Montano nor Mr. Sanchez-Milian was in any of the same classes as the ninth-grade victim, but school officials said both were considered freshmen because of their limited schooling.

Addressing questions about whether it was appropriate to have 18-year-old Mr. Sanchez-Milian in the same grade as younger students, Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Jack Smith said the student “was enrolled in the appropriate program to give him the services he needed.”

“We have a great number of 18-year-olds and 19-year-olds enrolled across all 25 of our high schools,” he said.

The attack has, however, prompted the county to reconsider how it assesses placement of students in its programs.

“Certainly we will take a good hard look at how we place students,” Mr. Smith said.

Jessica Vaughan, policy studies director at the Center for Immigration Studies, said the Obama administration could have done more to combat the surge of illegal immigrants from Central America in recent years.

Instead, the administration created policies that its own agents said invited more people to attempt the journey, hoping to take advantage of lax enforcement.

Once the children were in the U.S., the Obama administration put serious pressure on localities to make sure they ended up in schools.

“I think this is a problem that was dumped on Montgomery County and lots of other school systems,” Ms. Vaughan said. “Even the decision to place them in the high schools — even that, it sounds crazy, but at least one other school system got in trouble for not mainstreaming them, faced legal action. So their hands are tied on these kids.”

Though it’s unclear whether the two students were officially part of the UAC program, illegal immigrant children from Central America have put increasing stress on public schools across the country — and in the metropolitan Washington area in particular.

The children are usually delivered to relatives, and the District of Columbia’s surrounding counties have a high population of immigrants from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, which are the main countries that make up the surge.

Since the beginning of 2014, Montgomery County has been the destination for 3,286 UACs. Prince George’s County has received 4,144, and Fairfax County in Virginia has taken in 3,925.

Immigrant rights advocates said the crime was a tragedy but warned against tarring all immigrants, or even all illegal immigrants, with blame.

“This is about rape, and the case lies with prosecutors. Those who would turn it into an immigration debate are pursuing their own agenda,” said Tom Jawetz, vice president for immigration policy at the Center for American Progress.

He said studies show immigrants — including those in the country illegally — have lower rates of criminality than native-born Americans.

A study released last week by the Cato Institute said illegal immigrants account for about 9 percent of the total U.S. population ages 18 to 54 but just 5.6 percent of the incarcerated population. By contrast, the native-born make up 82.4 percent of the U.S. population and 91.5 percent of the population in prisons and jails.

Legal immigrants have the lowest rate of all, making up 8.5 percent of the U.S. population ages 18-54 but less than 3 percent of the incarcerated population, Cato said.

Immigrant rights activists also said the rape case should not sour Maryland jurisdictions on becoming sanctuaries that refuse cooperation with federal immigration agents.

The House of Delegates this week approved a bill to prevent prisons and jails from honoring detainer requests from ICE, which often asked for illegal immigrants to be held for pickup. Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, has threatened a veto.


Source: www.washingtontimes.com stories: Politics

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