ROCKVILLE, Md. — News that one of the two Maryland high school students accused of raping a schoolmate was allegedly in the country unlawfully has caught the attention of the White House.
The student, 18-year-old Henry Sanchez-Milian, was arrested Thursday at Rockville High School in Rockville, Md., along with 17-year-old classmate Jose Montano.
Both students are being charged as adults with first-degree rape and two counts each of committing a first-degree sexual offense, Montgomery County Police said.
After Sanchez-Milian’s arrest, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement issued an immigration detainer, an order to local law enforcement to hold a suspect for a pending immigration review.
The crime, which took place some 20 miles from the White House in a school district where many members of Congress and federal officials live, comes amid heightened scrutiny of undocumented immigrants.
Last month, President Donald Trump directed the Department of Homeland Security to create an office tasked with focusing on crimes allegedly committed by undocumented immigrants.
Asked about the story at a Tuesday briefing, White House press secretary Sean Spicer called the crime “horrendous and horrible and disgusting.”
“I think part of the reason the president has made illegal immigration and crackdown such a big deal is because of tragedies like this,” he said.
But school officials rejected the notion that the incident has national implications.
“While some would try to make this into a question and issue of immigration, what comes down here is we serve every student who walks through our door,” said Jack R. Smith, superintendent of the Montgomery County Public Schools. “We are a public school system, and we serve all of our students when they come to us.
“People choose to do very bad things. Mostly, they don’t choose to do them in schools, but sometimes they do. And that is horrible, it’s unacceptable, it’s tragic, but schools — relative to the rest of the world — are among the most safe places we can be in our community. ”
Spicer nonetheless called for a review of school guidelines.
“The president recognizes that education is a state-run and a local-run issue but I think it is — it is cause for concern, what happened there. And I think that the city should look at its policies and I think that this is something that authorities are going to have to look at.”
In his response, the press secretary also characterized the victim as a person who chose to come to America legally.
“This young woman, in particular, fought to come to this country legally because of the freedoms and the treasures of this nation,” he said. “And to think that this kind of tragedy would occur to someone who’s personally endured that kind of struggle to come to this nation and then face this is reprehensible.”
On that point, however, Montgomery County Police Capt. James Humphries called the White House’s narrative into question.
“I have no information that she is anything other than a U.S. citizen,” he said of the unnamed victim. “There’s no information at all that she has any kind of immigrant status whatsoever.”
Matthew Bourke, a spokesman for ICE, said Sanchez-Milian, a citizen of Guatemala, was stopped by a border patrol agent in Rio Grande Valley, Texas, in August 2016.
At that time, the agent determined that Sanchez-Milian was in the United States illegally, having crossed over from Mexico without proper documentation.
Sanchez-Milian was ordered to appear before an immigration judge. That hearing has yet to be scheduled.
Bourke said such a delay in an immigration hearing was “not atypical” and that Sanchez-Milian had been free to travel in the interim.
“There are a lot of people waiting to see an immigration judge,” he said.
According to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, more than half a million cases are pending in immigration courts across the United States.
ICE officials would not comment on Montano’s citizenship, citing his age. The alleged rape took place in a school bathroom Thursday morning.
According to the alleged victim, the younger of the two suspects solicited her for sex in a school hallway. When she refused, he forced her into a boys bathroom. Both the suspects then allegedly raped her inside a bathroom stall.
Sanchez-Milian and Montano have not yet been assigned public defenders, according to the county public defender’s office, and neither has yet entered a plea.
Sanchez-Milian is due in court on April 14. Montano has a hearing scheduled for March 31.