US judge blocks Trump's attempt to deport Cambodians without due process

SAN FRANCISCO/NEW YORK, Jan 26 (Reuters) - A federal judge late on Thursday said President Donald Trump's administration cannot immediately deport 92 Cambodian citizens from the United States without first allowing them a chance to challenge the action in court.

U.S. immigration authorities conducted raids last October and arrested approximately 100 Cambodians, many of whom had fled the Khmer Rouge government in the 1970s.

After arriving in the United States, the Cambodians had been convicted of various criminal charges, and ordered deported years ago. However Cambodia refused to repatriate them, so they were released from immigration custody and many held down jobs until they were re-arrested last year.

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Cambodian refugees deported from the US
In this photo taken on August 5, 2017, Nheb Thai (L), a Cambodian refugee who was deported from the US, prepares dough as he makes pizza for a group of other deportees like him in Battambang, a western province bordering Thailand that has become a hub for returnees who trickle back to the countryside to stay with distant relatives. Cambodia has taken in 566 deportees since inking a 2002 pact with the US that opened the trap door on thousands of legal residents who had blots on their criminal records. / AFP PHOTO / Tang Chhin Sothy / TO GO WITH Cambodia-US-immigration-society-crime,FEATURE by Sally Mairs (Photo credit should read TANG CHHIN SOTHY/AFP/Getty Images)
In this photo taken on August 5, 2017, Nheb Thai (R), a Cambodian refugee who was deported from the US, carries plates with food as he serves a meal to a group of other deportees like him in Battambang, a western province bordering Thailand that has become a hub for returnees who trickle back to the countryside to stay with distant relatives. Cambodia has taken in 566 deportees since inking a 2002 pact with the US that opened the trap door on thousands of legal residents who had blots on their criminal records. / AFP PHOTO / Tang Chhin Sothy / TO GO WITH Cambodia-US-immigration-society-crime,FEATURE by Sally Mairs (Photo credit should read TANG CHHIN SOTHY/AFP/Getty Images)
In this photo taken on August 5, 2017, Cambodian deportee Van Vath speaks during an interview with AFP in Battambang, a western province bordering Thailand that has become a hub for returnees from the US who trickle back to the countryside to stay with distant relatives. Cambodia has taken in 566 deportees since inking a 2002 pact with the US that opened the trap door on thousands of legal residents who had blots on their criminal records. / AFP PHOTO / Tang Chhin Sothy / TO GO WITH Cambodia-US-immigration-society-crime,FEATURE by Sally Mairs (Photo credit should read TANG CHHIN SOTHY/AFP/Getty Images)
In this photo taken on August 5, 2017, Cambodian deportee Sarith Chan drives a long rickshaw belonging to his tour company in Battambang, a western province bordering Thailand that has become a hub for returnees from the US who trickle back to the countryside to stay with distant relatives. Cambodia has taken in 566 deportees since inking a 2002 pact with the US that opened the trap door on thousands of legal residents who had blots on their criminal records. / AFP PHOTO / Tang Chhin Sothy / TO GO WITH Cambodia-US-immigration-society-crime,FEATURE by Sally Mairs (Photo credit should read TANG CHHIN SOTHY/AFP/Getty Images)
In this photo taken on August 5, 2017, Cambodian deportees gather to share a meal in Battambang, a western province bordering Thailand that has become a hub for returnees from the US who trickle back to the countryside to stay with distant relatives. Cambodia has taken in 566 deportees since inking a 2002 pact with the US that opened the trap door on thousands of legal residents who had blots on their criminal records. / AFP PHOTO / Tang Chhin Sothy / TO GO WITH Cambodia-US-immigration-society-crime,FEATURE by Sally Mairs (Photo credit should read TANG CHHIN SOTHY/AFP/Getty Images)
In this photo taken on August 5, 2017, a Cambodian deportee joins others like him for a meal in Battambang, a western province bordering Thailand that has become a hub for returnees from the US who trickle back to the countryside to stay with distant relatives. Cambodia has taken in 566 deportees since inking a 2002 pact with the US that opened the trap door on thousands of legal residents who had blots on their criminal records. / AFP PHOTO / Tang Chhin Sothy / TO GO WITH Cambodia-US-immigration-society-crime,FEATURE by Sally Mairs (Photo credit should read TANG CHHIN SOTHY/AFP/Getty Images)
In this photo taken on August 5, 2017, Cambodian deportee Sarith Chan drives a long rickshaw belonging to his tour company in Battambang, a western province bordering Thailand, that has become a hub for returnees from the US who trickle back to the countryside to stay with distant relatives. Cambodia has taken in 566 deportees since inking a 2002 pact with the US that opened the trap door on thousands of legal residents who had blots on their criminal records. / AFP PHOTO / Tang Chhin Sothy / TO GO WITH Cambodia-US-immigration-society-crime,FEATURE by Sally Mairs (Photo credit should read TANG CHHIN SOTHY/AFP/Getty Images)
In this photo taken on August 5, 2017, Nheb Thai, a Cambodian refugee who was deported from the US, carries plates with food as he serves a meal to a group of other deportees like him in Battambang, a western province bordering Thailand that has become a hub for returnees who trickle back to the countryside to stay with distant relatives. Cambodia has taken in 566 deportees since inking a 2002 pact with the US that opened the trap door on thousands of legal residents who had blots on their criminal records. / AFP PHOTO / Tang Chhin Sothy / TO GO WITH Cambodia-US-immigration-society-crime,FEATURE by Sally Mairs (Photo credit should read TANG CHHIN SOTHY/AFP/Getty Images)
In this photo taken on August 5, 2017, Cambodian deportee Leach Chhoeun (L) drinks beer as he joins other deportees like him for a meal in Battambang, a western province bordering Thailand that has become a hub for returnees from the US who trickle back to the countryside to stay with distant relatives. Cambodia has taken in 566 deportees since inking a 2002 pact with the US that opened the trap door on thousands of legal residents who had blots on their criminal records. / AFP PHOTO / Tang Chhin Sothy / TO GO WITH Cambodia-US-immigration-society-crime,FEATURE by Sally Mairs (Photo credit should read TANG CHHIN SOTHY/AFP/Getty Images)
In this photo taken on August 5, 2017, Cambodian deportee Leach Chhoeun (C) listens to another Cambodian deportee (L) who did not wish to be identified as they meet in Battambang, a western province bordering Thailand that has become a hub for returnees from the US who trickle back to the countryside to stay with distant relatives. Cambodia has taken in 566 deportees since inking a 2002 pact with the US that opened the trap door on thousands of legal residents who had blots on their criminal records. / AFP PHOTO / Tang Chhin Sothy / TO GO WITH Cambodia-US-immigration-society-crime,FEATURE by Sally Mairs (Photo credit should read TANG CHHIN SOTHY/AFP/Getty Images)
In this photo taken on August 5, 2017, Cambodian deportees gather to share a meal in Battambang, a western province bordering Thailand, that has become a hub for returnees from the US who trickle back to the countryside to stay with distant relatives. Cambodia has taken in 566 deportees since inking a 2002 pact with the US that opened the trap door on thousands of legal residents who had blots on their criminal records. / AFP PHOTO / Tang Chhin Sothy / TO GO WITH Cambodia-US-immigration-society-crime,FEATURE by Sally Mairs (Photo credit should read TANG CHHIN SOTHY/AFP/Getty Images)
In this photo taken on August 5, 2017, a Cambodian deportee, sporting a tattoo showing an ancient Cambodian temple, joins others like him for a meal in Battambang, a western province bordering Thailand that has become a hub for returnees from the US who trickle back to the countryside to stay with distant relatives. Cambodia has taken in 566 deportees since inking a 2002 pact with the US that opened the trap door on thousands of legal residents who had blots on their criminal records. / AFP PHOTO / Tang Chhin Sothy / TO GO WITH Cambodia-US-immigration-society-crime,FEATURE by Sally Mairs (Photo credit should read TANG CHHIN SOTHY/AFP/Getty Images)
In this photo taken on August 5, 2017, Nheb Thai (R), a Cambodian refugee who was deported from the US, carries plates with pizza as he serves a meal to a group of other deportees like him in Battambang, a western province bordering Thailand, that has become a hub for returnees who trickle back to the countryside to stay with distant relatives. Cambodia has taken in 566 deportees since inking a 2002 pact with the US that opened the trap door on thousands of legal residents who had blots on their criminal records. / AFP PHOTO / Tang Chhin Sothy / TO GO WITH Cambodia-US-immigration-society-crime,FEATURE by Sally Mairs (Photo credit should read TANG CHHIN SOTHY/AFP/Getty Images)
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In ongoing negotiations over immigration reform, the Trump administration is seeking stronger measures against immigrants who have been ordered deported but whose home countries refused to accept them, a senior administration official said.

In a ruling on Thursday, U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney in Santa Ana, California federal court ruled that 92 of the Cambodians still in custody could raise "serious questions" about the validity of their underlying convictions and deportation orders.

The government said the Cambodians' request should be rejected because they knew they could be deported at any instant, an argument the judge called insensitive.

"It is disingenuous for the Government to claim that throughout the many years that Petitioners were permitted to live and work on supervised release, they should not have built up any expectation that they would be permitted to remain in the country," Carney wrote.

A U.S. Department of Justice spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.

Three other U.S. judges have issued similar rulings stopping the government from quickly deporting immigrants who have long lived in the country, said Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union Immigrants' Rights Project who represents the Cambodians.

Those rulings involved Iraqis, Indonesians and Somalians, he said.

"In each case, the courts have soundly rejected the administration's claim that it is necessary to abruptly remove these long term residents without giving them due process," Gelernt said. (Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton in Washington; Editing by Alistair Bell)

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