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2000-03-21

Federal Judge Blocks Elián González Asylum

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A federal judge today refused to block efforts to return six-year-old Elián González to Cuba, saying only the U.S. attorney general can grant political asylum to keep the boy in the United States. U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore’s ruling dismissed the lawsuit filed by Elián’s great-uncle, Lázaro González, who wants to keep Elián, against the wishes of the boy’s father in Cuba. [includes rush transcript]

The U.S. government had asked the judge to dismiss the lawsuit, which asked the court to compel the Immigration and Naturalization Service to give Elián an asylum hearing. Elián’s fate has been debated since he was found clinging to an inner tube off Florida on Nov. 25. His mother and 10 others drowned when their boat capsized during an attempt to reach the United States. The case has become a tug-of-war between the Cuban government and anti-Castro family members in the United States. In early January, the INS ordered that Elián be returned to his father, a decision backed by President Clinton and Attorney General Janet Reno. The order was put on hold pending the court fight. Attorneys for Lázaro González have argued that the INS violated the boy’s rights by refusing to grant him a political asylum hearing when he was rescued.

Guest:

  • Michael Ratner, attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Related links:

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Before we turn to another major issue of the day, the issue of Colombia and a vote that’s expected today on a $1.6 billion aid package to the South American country that would make it the third-largest recipient of U.S. aid, after Israel and Egypt, we’re going to turn now to a story that we’ve just gotten off the newswire. A federal judge in Miami today dismissed the lawsuit aimed at keeping six-year-old Elián González in the United States, saying only the U.S. attorney general can grant asylum to the Cuban boy. U.S. District Judge Michael Moore’s ruling comes 12 days after hearing arguments in the lawsuit filed by Elián’s great-uncle, Lázaro González. González wants to keep Elián against the wishes of the boy’s father in Cuba. The U.S. government had asked the judge to dismiss the lawsuit, which asked the court to compel the Immigration and Naturalization Service to give Elián an asylum hearing.

We turn right now to attorney Michael Ratner with the Center for Constitutional Rights, who’s been quite involved with the case. What is your reaction to this ruling, and what does it mean, Michael?

MICHAEL RATNER: Well, I think it’s a very significant and important ruling. I mean, it’s actually a major break in the case, I hope. What it means is that the district court said that the attorney general is the proper person to speak for the boy. She has said the boy’s father in Cuba is his guardian and should speak for him on immigration matters. The court upheld that decision of the attorney general and said there’s no authority of the federal court to override such a decision. So it is a very, very significant ruling.

The question is, what happens next? First, there can be an appeal, obviously, although there’s no stay of sending the boy back to Cuba. So, if the attorney general had any courage, or this administration did, they would send the kid back to Cuba almost immediately rather than wait for an appeal. The appeal could take as short as a few weeks. It could take a few months. Every month that kid stays here, I think, is very, very bad for the child’s psyche. So it is a significant ruling.

It was legally pretty much of a slam dunk. There is no jurisdiction in federal courts to override the attorney general’s decision on this. But politically, it wasn’t such a slam dunk, and it was a Miami federal judge. And so, the guy obviously showed some courage in the face of a Miami community that obviously wanted a different — that many of whom wanted a different decision. So it is a very, very important decision.

The other worry obviously in this case is that Congress could get back in the act and try and make this kid a citizen again. Hopefully that will not occur, that there’s enough understanding, and even among conservative members of Congress, that that’s not proper, even from a family value point of view, you know, which they’ve always said was important to them.

So, hopefully we’re beginning to see the end of the case. But I thought that before, and it is a real problem that our political leaders haven’t had the courage to just send this kid back. There is nothing — there is no court order or anything stopping them from doing so, only the politics of a small Miami right-wing Cuban community.

AMY GOODMAN: So, it’s now in Attorney General Janet Reno’s court?

MICHAEL RATNER: Well, that’s correct. Attorney General Reno can now decide tomorrow, today, to send that child back to Cuba. She can do it. They’ll say, "Well, we’re going to appeal," but they can appeal all they want, but she has the right to send that child back, unless the upper court prohibits her from doing so, or unless, like she did in this case, she says, "I will let the proceedings go ahead until there’s a final order." And, of course, that’s what she said once, and she’s probably going to say it again, feeling that she’d rather have the court on the hook rather than the political administration in an election year.

AMY GOODMAN: So, whose court does it go to?

MICHAEL RATNER: Well, it goes to the Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, which is in Atlanta. It’s an appeal. The three judges would decide it, both on the question of whether there’s a stay of the kid being sent back — of Elián being sent back to Cuba, and whether or not there’s a right for the great-uncle to file an asylum petition on his behalf.

AMY GOODMAN: So, there would be probably less protest in Atlanta, considering the courts have, until now, been in Miami.

MICHAEL RATNER: Yeah, I mean, I think that’s right. I mean, what I think the Clinton administration was banking on is that a court order saying this kid should go back to Cuba — that Elián should go back, is going to be easier to enforce and might be obeyed by the Miami Cuban community more than an order from the attorney general. And they didn’t want to see the attorney general sending marshals in to get the child out. I think she was wrong about that, but she’s probably right about the fact that if there’s a court order, that the chances are more likely that she won’t have to send in federal marshals.

AMY GOODMAN: So, this puts Gore in a difficult position, Gore who receives money from the right-wing Miami Cuban community, who has — hasn’t he said that he felt that Elián should stay?

MICHAEL RATNER: He basically said he disagreed with Janet Reno that the kid should go back to Cuba. He disagreed about the father being free to make that decision. Hillary Clinton didn’t do any better. She said something to the effect of the mother’s wishes, the mother who took him here and died on the way, should be considered in any decision. So I think our politicians have all — you know, the Democrats as well as the Republicans have basically bent to the major funding they receive from that community. I think Gore had received over, even a few months ago, over $300,000 from the Miami Cubans. So, you’re not seeing exactly honest, straight politicians on this deal.

AMY GOODMAN: Michael Ratner, I want to thank you for being with us for this late-breaking news. Again, a judge in Miami has just dismissed the lawsuit aimed at keeping six-year-old Elián González in the United States, saying only the U.S. attorney general can grant asylum to the Cuban boy. Among other websites you can go to, Michael Ratner’s, who’s affiliated with the Center for Constitutional Rights at humanrightsnow.com. That’s humanrightsnow.com.

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