Oregon Sheriff says jail is full, needs to release illegal immigrants

PORTLAND, Ore. - It's no secret the jail in Portland is full. Now Multnomah County's sheriff says he needs to start letting some suspected illegal immigrants go to make room for more serious criminals.

Sheriff Dan Staton says it's the best choice in a bad situation.

He doesn't want any inmates out early but faced with releasing some criminals who have committed violent crimes versus some illegals arrested for minor crimes, he says the choice is clear.

The federal government asks the sheriff and others to hold suspected illegal immigrants for 48 hours so Immigration and Customs Enforcement can investigate whether they're here illegally. The sheriff says if he holds them, he has to release other inmates.

Since the first of the month, the types of serious criminals who were released included those accused of unlawful use of a weapon, assault, robbery and attempt to elude, which means leading police on a car chase.

Staton wants to hold onto those people by not holding some illegal immigrants for the two-day period.

"The crimes that we are talking about are the very low-level crimes, drunk in public, those type of issues," he said. "We are going to go through our normal process, the normal judicial process that we currently would apply to any citizen."

"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," said Jim Ludwick of Oregonians for Immigration Reform.

The sheriff's proposal isn't exactly being celebrated by immigration rights groups either. A leading group, Causa, first says it "applauds Multnomah County Sheriff's Action" but then goes on to say in its statement, "However, we disagree that the Sheriff should be honoring any ICE detainers as they create fear and division in the immigrant community."

Immigration rights groups want the sheriff to do what Los Angeles and New York have done, which is to reject all requests from the federal government regardless of the crime.

The sheriff doesn't get paid to hold suspected illegal immigrants for the two-day period. He says he's only proposing releasing inmates accused of crimes where people would normally be released right away if they weren't suspected of being here illegally.

County commissioners will debate the idea Thursday.