The Miami relatives of Elian Gonzalez say they will comply with a Justice Department order to bring the six-year-old Cuban boy to a neutral location today to meet his grandmothers, who flew to the United States from Cuba last week in an effort to take him back home to his father. [includes rush transcript]
Elian Gonzalez was found last November 25 clinging to an inner tube on the Atlantic Ocean, after the makeshift boat he was on with his mother and other would-be immigrants sank. His mother drowned, and Elian was taken to distant relatives’ home in Miami, where he has remained since then. His Miami relatives refuse to return the boy to his father in Cuba, prompting a tug-of-war between Cuban exiles in Miami and the Cuban government. After the INS ruled that Elian should be sent back to Cuba, his Miami relatives decided to appeal to a federal court. Several members of Congress are looking at enacting a private law that would make Elian a US citizen to prevent him from being sent home.
- Jose Pertierra, immigration attorney in Washington, D.C.
The Miami relatives of Elian Gonzalez say they’ll comply with the Justice Department order to bring the six-year-old Cuban boy to a neutral location today to meet his grandmothers, who flew to the US from Cuba last week in an effort to take him back home with his father. Elian Gonzalez was found last November 25th clinging to an inner tube in the Atlantic Ocean, after the makeshift boat he was in with his mother and other would-be immigrants sank. His mother drowned. Elian was taken to distant relatives’ home in Miami, where he’s remained since. His Miami relatives refused to return the boy to his father in Cuba, prompting a tug-of-war between Cuban exiles in Miami and the Cuban government. After the INS ruled that Elian should be sent back to Cuba, his Miami relatives decided to appeal to a federal court. Several members of Congress are looking at enacting a private law that would make Elian a US citizen to prevent him from being sent home.
We’re joined right now by Cuban American attorney, Jose Pertierra, immigration attorney. Welcome to Democracy Now!
Thank you very much. I’m glad to be here.
Well, can you just give us a quick synopsis of the latest? I’ve even heard that CBS is doing a mini series on the life of Elian Gonzalez. Probably it will be longer than Elian’s life up until this point.
Yeah, I read that, too, and it’s evident that the manipulation of this little six-year-old boy is getting worse every day. It’s very important that he go back to Cuba as soon as possible. He really hasn’t had a chance to mourn the death of his mother or to be with the relatives that he grew up with. You know, you’ve got to remember that the relatives in Miami — you called them distant relatives. You’re absolutely correct. These are great uncles, second cousins, third cousins. These are people, that if he met at all before, he met them for a week last year when some members of that family went to Cuba on a vacation.
This is not a custody dispute. A custody dispute is when parents fight over the custody of their child. This is not a fight between parents. This is a case where some distant relatives were given temporary care of the boy as babysitters, until such time that the boy can be returned to Cuba. And then these distant relatives have absolutely refused to hand him over. You know, if any one of our children was left in the care of a distant relative for a couple of days, and that distant relative refused to hand him over, we’d call the police. We wouldn’t call a child welfare psychologist and turn it into a custody dispute. You know, it really baffles the mind how this case is being played out as if it was a custody dispute, because under the law, if it resembles anything at all, it resembles a kidnapping.
What about the role that the Clinton administration is playing right now?
Well, the Clinton administration, as it has done through its entire eight years of existence, has on the one hand said the right things, but on the other hand it hasn’t done what it needed to do to implement their decisions. In this particular case, the immigration service correctly determined that the family in Miami couldn’t speak on behalf of the boy and that the boy, being only six years old and recently turned six years old, was unable to speak for himself. And so, they determined that the only person legally authorized to speak on his behalf was his father.
Now, given that decision, the immigration service had, as a matter of law, the power to implement the decision to pick up the boy, revoke the temporary care that they placed him under, you know, with these distant relatives and hand the boy back to his family in Cuba. But the Clinton administration refused to do that and instead virtually invited the family in Miami to sue the government in federal court. The family in Miami, through their lawyers, reluctantly sued. And I say “reluctantly” because they know that as a matter of law they have no standing to sue in federal court, because they can’t speak on behalf of the boy.
And if you noticed the caption on the federal district court case, it says Elian Gonzalez v. INS. Well, any lawyer knows that if you’re going to represent somebody, you need that somebody to authorize you to represent them. You just can’t represent them because you’re a lawyer. And in this case, the proper authorization can only come from the father, and he doesn’t want the boy to remain in the United States. So the case is going to be thrown out on lack of standing. It’s also going to be thrown out because, as a matter of law, there is no judicial review of immigration service decisions in cases of this type. The Republican Congress in 1996 and again in 1997 took away any form of judicial review in cases of this type. So —
Will it change if Elian is made a US citizen? Because it doesn’t look like President —
It would dramatically change if he’s made a US citizen, because that would strip the immigration service of jurisdiction over this case. It would put the case in the hands of an elected state judge in Miami to have a so-called custody case heard in Miami. But since there are no allegations that this father is unfit, the only thing that would be tried in Miami in front of this elected judge is Cuba. And, you know, that’s really a misuse of the judicial system. Custody courts are not in the business of deciding which is a good country or a bad country. They have to decide who is a good father and who is a bad father, and that’s not what this case is about. What they want is to be able to put Cuba on trial in Miami as a political show and turn this even more into a political circus, all at the expense of a little six-year-old boy and the relationship with his father and his four grandparents and the wealth of other relatives that he has in Cuba.
Finally, Jose Pertierra, since this a day we’re focusing on candidates, particularly the Democratic candidates, and one of them happens to be the Vice President of the United States. What is your view of Al Gore’s stance on this issue? I believe that he has said that the father should come to the United States to deal with this and has seemed to back off a little what the Justice Department is saying.
You know, I’m very disappointed with Vice President Gore’s remarks, and I’m very disappointed with all of the presidential candidates’ remarks with this case. It seems to be political pandering to a small minority of Cuban Americans, and I speak as a Cuban American myself when I say this. It’s a small group of Cuban Americans in Miami that are orchestrating this case. And our presidential candidates should be leaders in this and recognize that they should do the right thing, that the United States government should do the right thing in this case. And the right thing doesn’t mean pandering to a bunch of fanatical Cuban Americans in Miami. The right thing is to reunite this boy with his father, and if a presidential candidate came along and said that courageously, I think the American people would back him, because they would recognize that he’s a leader, and so far I haven’t seen any leadership on this issue from any of the presidential candidates.
Well, we will continue to follow the Elian Gonzalez issue. I want to thank you, Jose Pertierra, Cuban American attorney, immigration attorney in Washington, D.C. In fact, it was Jose Pertierra on Democracy Now! who had said a few weeks ago — it’s hard to believe this has continued this long, this case around Elian — that the grandmothers should come up to this country to get their grandchild, and here they are in the United States, not clear, though, that they will be bringing home their grandchild to Cuba.