Last Updated Mar 28, 2017 11:06 AM EDT
ROCKVILLE, Md. — As officials reported that one of two students charged with raping a 14-year-old girl in a Maryland high school bathroom entered the United States illegally, the crime became part of a national debate on immigration.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer, in response to a reporter’s question at Tuesday’s press briefing, called the crime “shocking, disturbing, horrific.”
“I think part of the reason that the president has made illegal immigration and crackdown such a big deal is because of tragedies like this,” he said.
Henry Sanchez, 18, and Jose Montano, 17, were charged in the Thursday assault at Rockville High School. The Washington Post reports that Sanchez lived in Guatemala until he was 17.
Matthew Bourke, spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said in a statement that a border patrol agent encountered Sanchez in Texas in August. Sanchez was ordered to appear before an immigration judge, Bourke said, but that appearance has not been scheduled. ICE has since lodged an immigration detainer against Sanchez
According to court records, Montano, who was charged as an adult, was born in El Salvador, where he lived for 16 years. ICE officials would not discuss Montano’s immigration status because he is a juvenile.
Jack Smith, superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools, pushed back against the focus on the immigration status of the accused students.
“Some try to make this into an issue of immigration,” Smith said at a news conference Tuesday. “We would like to change the conversation.”
While expressing horror at the crime and repeatedly assuring parents that their children are safe at school, Smith said, “We serve every student who walks in the door. It is not only the right thing to do, it is the law.”
CBS affiliate WUSA reports representatives of the school district met with concerned parents for more than an hour and a half on Tuesday night. The meeting was closed to the press, but some attendees told the station that officials were unable to answer many of their questions about the circumstances of the on-campus assault.
“This is really a tragedy for a young lady and there are really no answers for her and that’s my concern,” said Rockville High School parent Ben Pauwles.
On Monday, Maryland’s House of Delegates approved a measure to prevent authorities from detaining immigrants to ask about their immigration status.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, said on WBAL radio that the crime represents a “worst-case scenario.” He said the bill would prevent Maryland from cooperating with immigration authorities.
He vowed to veto the bill if it reaches his desk.
Preliminary hearings are set for Montano on March 31 and for Sanchez on April 14.