PORTLAND -- Multnomah County Sheriff Dan Staton is drafting a new policy in favor of releasing illegal immigrants jailed for nonviolent misdemeanor crimes.

The immigrant rights community has been pressuring Staton to reject requests from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency to hold such people for deportation.

Multnomah County Board of Commissioners Chair Jeff Cogen says the new policy could free up jail beds and potentially save the county millions of dollars.

Five years ago the sheriff's office set free several people because of jail overcrowding, and Staton said it's gotten even worse since then. Last year he had to let 900 people out of jail early.

I no longer agree with the fact that I'm releasing people who are committing burglaries, he said. I'm releasing people that are stealing vehicles; I'm releasing people that are low-level drug offenders. And I've got to put a stop to it.

He said he also knows that some immigrants are afraid to call for help and protection from crime because they don't want to be discovered. He hopes this decision will change that.

The executive director of Causa--an immigrant rights group--said the sheriff's decision is a welcome change. The county board is scheduled to vote on the issue April 4.

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