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Rape at Rockville High gets drawn into immigration debate

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."

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"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. Court records do not list attorneys for either. The Washington Post reports that Sanchez lived in Guatemala until he was 17.

The 14-year-old girl was walking in a hallway when she met the teens. Montano asked the girl to walk with them and to have sex, but she refused, police said. Montano forced her into a boys' bathroom and into a stall, where he and Sanchez raped her, police said.

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.

In a Facebook post, Gov. Larry Hogan said he was "outraged" by what happened. "The State of Maryland is calling on Montgomery County to immediately and fully cooperate with all federal authorities during the investigation of this heinous crime," Hogan wrote. "The public has a right to know how something this tragic and unacceptable was allowed to transpire in a public school."

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 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."

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