There have been a lot of rumors swirling in recent weeks about a major illegal-immigration sweep that was planned for later this month.

Now we learn “Operation Mega” has been put on hold by the Department of Homeland Security because of the damage caused by Hurricane Harvey in Texas and the anticipated damage by Hurricane Irma in Florida.

In the meantime, immigration courts in New Jersey and other parts of the nation remain backlogged.

Data from TRAC, the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, shows more than 31,000 people in the Garden State have cases pending in immigration court, while nationally the number tops 617,000.

According to Sue Long, the co-director of TRAC and a professor of managerial statistic at SU, immigration deportation cases are pending in every New Jersey county.

“For years, Congress has expanded immigration enforcement but they didn’t increase the number of judges available to hear cases,” she said.

Long noted while President Trump has taken a hard line against undocumented immigrants, President Obama did as well.

"Obama was often called the 'deporter-in-chief' by immigrant rights groups because deportations increased under President Obama,” she said.

She pointed out President Obama made deportations of those with criminal records a top priority for Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials, while President Trump has not.

She added at this point “it’s hard to know what’s going on" because of limited data released to the public. "It’s not at all clear deportations have increased under Trump.”

She noted some cases are prioritized but typically it takes more than two years for a case in immigration court to be resolved.

TRAC data shows only about 43 percent of cases resolved in New Jersey this year have resulted in deportations.

She added right now we have a big public debate about what our immigration goals should be, let alone what the resources should be

Nicole Miller, legal services director for American Friends Service Committee in Newark, said there has been aggressive immigration enforcement going on in New Jersey for years and people end up in proceedings a lot of different ways, including ICE raids at homes and workplaces.

"It could be because of an interaction with the criminal justice system, regardless of whether they have a conviction or not," she said.

Said the backlog of cases makes life very difficult for the immigrants who are caught up in this.

“I mean you have people who are basically in limbo for many, many years. It has a huge impact on families and just the stress of the threat of deportation hanging over one family member or another.”

Miller says many of these individuals wind up with little or no legal representation whatsoever.

“It’s very hard to find pro-bono attorneys at firms who are able to take on a case when you tell them it’s going to take years before there’s a final hearing. It’s a real problem on many different levels.”

She added, “It’s only going to get worse because we’ve seen, as you know, increased arrests across the country and in New Jersey.”

You can contact reporter David Matthau at

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