Jail Crowding Could Spring Undocumented Immigrants

Multnomah County, Ore., officials say they will decide this week whether to endorse a proposed detention policy to allow undocumented immigrants jailed for nonviolent misdemeanor crimes to be released.

Sheriff Dan Staton, who has been drafting the proposed policy shift with county chair Jeff Cogen, said the move is necessary to make space for violent criminals in his overcrowded jails.

"I'm releasing people who are committing burglaries. I'm releasing people that are stealing vehicles. I keep releasing people that are low level drug offenders and I've got to put a stop to it," Staton told ABC News' Portland affiliate KATU-TV.

The proposed policy would mean local officials would decline immigration holds issued by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials for nonviolent offenders, according to a copy of the proposal found on the Multnomah County Commissioner's website.

ICE can issue holds to federal, state and local law enforcement to ask that they hold an undocumented immigrant for 48 hours while officials investigate whether the person entered the United States illegally.

Because Multnomah County isn't compensated for holding the alleged undocumented immigrants, the practice places an "undue burden on the county," according to the proposal

"Moreover, the unmitigated compliance with ICE detainers requests has the potential of further straining the resources of the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office and occupying scarce and costly jail beds that should be reserved for those who pose the greatest threat to public safety," the proposal said.

Staton has said he will continue to honor the immigration holds for undocumented immigrants accused of felonies and misdemeanor violent crimes.

Oregonians for Immigration Reform, a group advocating for "sustainable" immigration, said the policy shift was "rewarding" to undocumented immigrants.

"Either we're a nation of the rule of law or we're not, and rewarding people who are here illegally - specifically here illegally - rewarding them with a special condition is a slap in the face to everybody who goes through the immigration process lawfully," member Jim Ludwick told KATU.

The Multnomah County Board is expected to vote on whether to endorse the proposal on April 4, however their decision does not affect whether it becomes official.

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