The teenagers who allegedly raped a high school classmate in Maryland arrived in the U.S. in 2016, part of a deluge of unaccompanied minors who illegally crossed the U.S.-Mexico border that year.
The suspects, Jose Montano and Henry Sanchez Milian, were searching for relatives already living in the U.S., The Washington Post reported Wednesday.
When Montgomery County Police arrested Montano, 17, and Sanchez Milan, 18, on March 16, it was not the first time the two had come into contact with U.S. authorities. Both teenagers were apprehended by Border Patrol officers shortly after crossing the southern border and then turned over to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), as is required by federal law.
HHS then released Montano, from El Salvador, and Sanchez Milian, from Guatemala, to their guardians in Maryland, where they were enrolled in public school. Less than a year later, police say, they took turns sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl in a bathroom at Rockville High.
The case has drawn attention to a number of questions surrounding illegal immigration and border security. Critics of national immigration policy have blasted authorities for accepting increasing numbers of unaccompanied children who arrive at the U.S.-Mexico border, most of them from Central American countries.
More than 200,000 unaccompanied minors were apprehended on the southern border between 2013 and 2016, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The number of Central Americans detained surpassed Mexicans for the first time ever in 2014 and again in 2016.
Officials say border agents issued Montano and Sanchez Milian notices to appear in immigration court, the Post reported, but U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which initiates deportation proceedings, never filed charges against Sanchez Milian. Under ICE policy, Sanchez Milian was not a priority for deportation because he did not have a known criminal record or gang affiliation.
The Trump administration revised immigration enforcement policy last month, expanding the categories of illegal immigrants that would be subject to deportation proceedings. A fact sheet released by DHS in February said ICE “will not exempt classes or categories of removal aliens from potential enforcement” and that “those in violation of the immigration laws may be subject to enforcement proceedings, up to and including removal from the United States.”