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World - Americas

INS, State Department officials meet with father of Cuban boy

January 2, 2000
Web posted at: 12:24 a.m. EST (0524 GMT)


In this story:

Tug of war

Helms wants Congress to grant citizenship

RELATED STORIES, SITES icon



HAVANA (CNN) -- An Immigration and Naturalization Service spokesman said Saturday representatives of the agency and the U.S. State Department have met in Cuba with Juan Miguel Gonzalez, the father of 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez.

The meeting, at the home of an international diplomat on Friday, was part of "the fact finding process to reach a final decision in Elian's case and move forward as quickly and cautiously as possible," the INS said.

Sources said the meeting also was held to address claims that the boy's father is being pressured by the Cuban government to demand his son's return.

Attorney Spencer Eig who filed Elian's political asylum claim angrily dismissed a second meeting. He called it "totally useless and pointless."

"If the point is to determine if he's (the father) under duress, how can they determine it if he's over there," Eig told CNN.

"He's like a man with a gun to his head over there," Eig added.

Tug of war

Elian was found floating off the Florida coast in an inner tube on Thanksgiving day, days after a boat carrying 13 Cubans to the United States capsized. Elian's mother and stepfather died in the accident, along with eight others.

  ALSO
 

Elian has since been at the center of a tug of war between his father who wants his son back in Cuba and his father's relatives who want the boy to remain with them in the United States.

Gonzalez, who was divorced from the boy's mother but shared custody of the youngster, claims he had no prior knowledge of the mother's intentions to leave for the United States. Gonzalez calls his son regularly.

While U.S. immigration authorities try to determine the boy's legal status, the youngster has been showered with gifts, given a free trip to Disney World and Universal Studios amusement parks, and visited by anti-Castro activists, including two members of Congress.

Helms wants Congress to grant citizenship

U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina and other Republican leaders say they will ask Congress to grant the boy U.S. citizenship.

Attorneys hired by the boy's great uncle have filed a political asylum claim for the youngster.

The question is whether the uncle has legal standing to speak on Elian's behalf.

The boy has become a cause-celebre simultaneously for Cuban President Fidel Castro and anti-Castro exiles in Miami.

Since December 5, demonstrations have been staged nearly daily in Cuba demanding the boy's return -- the cry "Free Elian " is chanted and his image adorns billboards and T-shirts.

In Miami, the boy has appeared on camera nearly daily playing with toys.

The boy's relatives insist Elian should stay because that was his mother's wish. They also argue they can provide him a better life in the U.S.

Many immigration law specialists argue the father's rights supersede those of the boy's extended family in the U.S.

Attorneys representing the boy's interests argue his father is not able to speak freely and cannot possibly want his son to return to the communist island.

A twice-postponed meeting between INS and the boy is scheduled for January 21, however, immigration officials have said the agency might decide on the boy's immigration status before then.

Last week, the six year old spent his first Christmas in the United States. On New Year's Eve, he played outside the Little Havana home in Miami where he's been living.

Elian cuddled a black Labrador retriever puppy given to him Wednesday by U.S. Representative Lincoln Diaz-Balart of Florida.

"We thought of something that Elian can really cherish and identify with," said Diaz-Balart.



RELATED STORIES:
Report on 6-year-old Cuban boy under high-level review
December 15, 1999
Father of 6-year-old Cuban boy expresses hope for his return
December 13, 1999
Protests stop in Havana day before U.S.-Cuba talks
December 12, 1999
Lawyers file for U.S. asylum for Cuban boy
December 10, 1999
Hundreds of thousands again demand Cuban boy's return
December 9, 1999
Clinton: Let the law decide fate of Cuban boy
December 8, 1999
Boy turns 6 amid Cuban-U.S. custody battle
December 6, 1999

RELATED SITES:
American Coalition for Fathers & Children
Cubaweb
Cuban American National Foundation
U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service
United States Coast Guard
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