By Colin Packham
SYDNEY, Feb 11 (Reuters) - Australia's highest court on Tuesday ruled two Indigenous men cannot be deported even though they were born overseas and never applied for citizenship, in a landmark ruling for the country's first inhabitants.
Australia's conservative government has in recent months moved to deport hundreds of foreigners convicted of crimes as part of an immigration crack-down that can also strip dual-nationals of their Australian citizenship.
The move has seen scores of people deported from Australia, sometimes to countries they had left when just children.
Daniel Love and Brendan Thoms were born overseas with at least one of their parents an Indigenous Australian citizen.
Both men had been living in Australia with permanent residency visas but had never applied to become citizens.
Their visas were revoked after they were separately convicted in 2018 of crimes that carried prison sentences of more than a year.
Australia's conservative government had sought to treat the men as foreigners and deport them to Papua New Guinea and New Zealand.
But in a 4-3 ruling, Australia's High Court said the men must be treated like citizens and can therefore remain. Love still faces another hearing to determine his Indigenous heritage.
"This is significant for Aboriginal Australians. This case is not about citizenship. It's about who belongs here, who is an Australian national and who is a part of the Australian community," Claire Gibbs, a lawyer for the two men, told reporters in Canberra.
Gibbs called on Australia to release Thoms who has been held in a detention centre for more than a year awaiting deportation.
The country's 700,000 or so Indigenous people track near the bottom of its 25 million citizens in almost every economic and social indicator.
(Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)
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