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Ore. ruling ends detaining suspected illegal immigrants


The cell door is opening sooner for some inmates around Oregon after a federal ruling made it illegal to hold suspected undocumented immigrants for federal officials after they’re eligible for release.

The changes come after a judge found it was illegal for authorities to hold a woman in Clackamas County past her sentencing.

Former rules under the Secure Communities program allowed U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to ask local authorities to hold certain inmates for up to two business days, until they could be taken into federal custody.

“It’s fantastic news,” Latino Community Association Executive Director Brad Porterfield said Friday. “Our current and former system hasn’t been just.”

Deschutes County officials said they stopped holding people solely on immigration detainers on Wednesday. The county has also decided to let illegal immigrants post bail.

“Once we changed our policy on how we’re going to do business, three of those inmates bailed out,” sheriff’s Capt. Shane Nelson said.

Nelson said four other detained inmates remained behind bars, either serving sentences or waiting for court dates.

Porterfield said the ruling isn’t just a step toward equality in jail, but also out on the street.

“It is not the job of local law enforcement to enforce federal immigration law,” Porterfield said. “If they’re not doing harm, there’s no reason to remove them from our community.”

He said Immigrant Family Advocates has been tracking the charges against those arrested and detained for ICE since 2007.

A report issued by the group found 74 percent of Deschutes County detainees last year were charged and jailed for minor infractions.

“They are held for charges that you and I would be released, or not even arrested for,” Porterfield said. “They didn’t have a driver’s license, or they had an expired license.”

Since Immigrant Family Advocates began tracking the data, 478 immigrants were charged with minor crimes. That’s 63 percent of the total population charged with crimes.

Nelson wouldn’t offer his opinion on the judge’s ruling, but Jefferson County Sheriff Jim Adkins called it unfortunate.

He said it makes it harder for law enforcement to punish illegal immigrants, and could discourage them from seeking the proper channels to citizenship.

Others argue the entire community will benefit.

“If immigrants know they’re not going to be taken to the jail solely for immigration purposes, then they’re going to be more likely, and feel safer communicating things to police that are going on here locally that put us all at risk,” Porterfield said.

Crook County Sheriff’s Office officials could not be reached Friday for comment on any changes to their policies on immigration detainment.

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