Australian court rules indigenous people can't be deported

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Lawyer Claire Gibbs speaks to reporters outside the High Court in Canberra, Australia, on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020. Gibbs told that her two clients who identify as indigenous Australians will sue the government for wrongful detention. Australia's highest court has ruled that the government can't deport Aboriginal people even if they are not Australian citizens. (AP Photo/Rod McGuirk)

CANBERRA – Australia’s highest court ruled Tuesday that the government can’t deport Aboriginal people as part of its policy of ridding the country of foreign criminals.

The High Court ruled in a 4-3 decision that indigenous Australians cannot be deported even if they do not hold Australian citizenship.

Lawyers welcomed the legal recognition of the original Australians' unique place in a country that was claimed by Britain in the 18th century without a treaty. The Australian government was assessing the surprise ruling's implications on immigration policy.

The court had heard the case of two men who were born overseas but identified as being from indigenous tribes: Brendan Thoms and Daniel Love.

Thoms, 31, was released after 501 days in immigration detention within hours of the court ruling that his indigenous status entitled him to live in Australia.

"Brendan has had 500 sleepless nights worrying he could be deported at any time, and that is now thankfully at an end," his lawyer Claire Gibbs said.

“He is very happy to have been released and to now be reunited with his family at long last,” she added.

Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge said the Home Affairs Department would review other cases that might be affected by the precedent.