A federal judge has blocked the deportation of ``a substantial majority'' of the first group of refugees that the United States government had planned to return to Cuba under an agreement reached last December. US District Judge Charles A. Moye Jr., accusing the government of acting with ``unseemly haste'' in its effort to deport the Cubans, issued an order Tuesday temporarily blocking the deportation of 16 of the 1,600 Cubans being held in the Atlanta federal penitentiary.
Assistant US Attorney Sharon Douglas Stokes told Judge Moye that the 16 Cubans ``represent a substantial majority of those scheduled [to be] on the first plane'' back to Cuba. She declined to elaborate.
The government has been trying to implement a Dec. 14 agreement with Cuba that allows the United States to deport 2,700 of the 125,000 Cubans who fled that country during the 1980 ``Freedom Flotilla'' boatlift.
The agreement called for the deportations to begin as early as January, but litigation filed on behalf of the Cubans in US District Court in Atlanta has delayed them.
Lawyers for the refugees, contending that their clients would face persecution if returned to Cuba, asked that the deportations be held up until the Cubans could be given hearings on their requests for political asylum in the United States.
US District Judge Marvin Shoob sided with the Cubans in the first round of that litigation, but the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals overturned his ruling and US Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist refused this month to intervene.
The circuit court also barred the Cubans from taking further action in US District Court.