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Elian Gonzalez family heads to airport to leave U.S. for Cuba
Supreme Court refuses case, clearing Elian's departure
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Elian Gonzalez and his family headed to the airport from his temporary home in Washington to return to his homeland seven months after the Cuban boy floated into Florida waters on an inner tube.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday decisively ended a seven-month custody battle over the 6-year-old boy.
In a brief, two-sentence statement, the court rejected a request by Elian's Miami relatives for a political asylum hearing on the boy's behalf and refused to extend the injunction requiring him to stay in the United States.
The ruling meant that Elian and his immediate family would be free to leave for Cuba after 4 p.m. Wednesday when a previous injunction expires.
In light of the Supreme Court ruling, the 6-year-old, his father, stepmother, and half-brother were expected to board a charter jet at Dulles Airport for the flight to Havana. Cuban officials tell CNN that the family will then return to their home in Cardenas.
Attorneys for the Miami relatives filed an emergency petition with the Supreme Court Monday after the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously rejected their request to reconsider its ruling that said the Immigration and Naturalization Service did not have to grant Elian a political asylum hearing.
The appeal said the legal issues "boil down to a single straightforward question: Can the INS deprive an alien child of his statutory and constitutional right to apply for asylum without conducting any hearing of any kind -- or even interviewing the child himself?"
Miami's Cuban community was dejected Wednesday over the Supreme Court ruling allowing Elian Gonzalez to return to Cuba, but authorities said they were not expecting violence or major demonstrations.
Cuban-American leaders said that while the battle was lost, they would continue to oppose Cuba's communist leadership.
Outside the Little Havana home where Elian had stayed with his relatives people milled, hugging each other, talking sadly. Some cried.
Ramon Saul Sanchez, a Cuban-American exile leader, told CNN, "We're very disilliusioned with the Supreme Court decision, however unfortunately, it's something that we already expected. The fight for Elian Gonzalez continues because we must fight for the rest of the children of Cuba and he's going to be returned to that place where oppression has endured for 41 years."
The Justice Department had argued that Elian's Miami relatives' last-ditch appeal was without merit and said, "prohibiting Elian's departure would only cause him harm."
Justice Department officials are relieved by the Supreme Court decision, CNN Justice Correspondent Pierre Thomas reported. He said they would like for the family to leave in dignity.
In a written statement, Attorney General Janet Reno said, "I am very pleased that the Supreme Court has declined to review the case of Elian Gonzalez. The law has provided a process, and this little boy now knows that he can remain with his father. All involved have had an opportunity to make their case--all the way to the highest court in the land. I hope that everyone will accept the Supreme Court's decision and join me in wishing thisfamily, and this special little boy, well".
Immigration officials have consistently maintained that the desire of Elian's father to repatriate the boy to Cuba must be respected, a position backed by a succession of court rulings.
Elian has been at the center of a legal tug of war between his father and his Miami relatives since he was found clinging to an inner tube on Thanksgiving Day. His mother and 10 other people died trying to reach the U.S. in a poorly-made boat.
Elian could be just hours away from return to Cuba
U.S. Attorney General
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