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Federal Judge Rules Attorney General Should Decide Elian Gonzalez Asylum MatterAired March 21, 2000 - 9:30 a.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: A judge has ruled that the decision about Elian Gonzalez and his custody matter should be given in the hands of Janet Reno, the attorney general. Apparently just word out of Miami a short time ago. Michael Moore, the federal district judge down there, ruled that his fate will lie in the hands of Janet Reno.
Relatives of Elian Gonzalez in southern Florida felt that Elian should be given an asylum hearing; was not afforded that right. They brought the case to court. The judge, though, after a three-hour hearing about 12 days ago has now issued his opinion in a 50-page written report.
Let's talk with Greta Van Susteren now live up in Washington.
Greta, what do you make of this thus far?
GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Bill, what I think is going to happen from this point forward is that the losing side, those who want to keep this young boy in the United States, will probably file a notice of appeal and take it up with the United States Court of Appeals. And whoever loses there is probably going to go on to the Supreme Court.
But you always want to win at the trial court. The party who won at this point, which is the INS, that they make the decision -- the attorney general makes the decision to send this boy back to Cuba, they're in a far better position when they go on to the United States Court of Appeals. Going on to the court of appeals may only delay it. On the other hand, they may seek not to appeal at all. And then, of course, the question is: When will he go back to his father?
HEMMER: Yes, that is the question, Greta. But based on your answer, it appears that Elian is not getting on a plane today or any time soon and returning to Havana, correct?
VAN SUSTEREN: Well, I can't predict what they're going to do, but usually what happens, you know, in 99 cases out of 100, in a situation where you have a hotly contested matter -- and indeed this was hotly contested -- is that the losing party wants to have the decision of the judge reviewed. This is a 50-page decision. The trial court judge obviously gave it a lot of consideration, but he may have addressed a lot of issues. Every time you address an issue, you raise the possibility of being wrong, and so it goes onward to the next court, which is the court of appeals.
HEMMER: Two points I want to pick up on. And I have not seen the judge's ruling just yet, but in that court case the INS officials argue that Elian is too young at the age of 6 and only a parent or guardian can file an application for him. Based on that, do you believe the judge may have made his decision?
VAN SUSTEREN: You know, I don't know, Bill, but I've always wondered since day one, since that child was found floating off the coast of Florida on November 25, is why a member of the family didn't rush into state court to become a guardian for him and immediately start an asylum petition.
Now, there are some ongoing state court proceedings about his guardianship. You may remember that that started, I think, sometime early in January. But, you know, what we've had here is we've had the INS involved in the case making decisions without a hearing, we've had a federal judge involved in it now, making a decision today, and we've also had this companion issue of guardianship going on in state court in Florida.
So we've had a convergence of several issues. And then you've got it compounded by the fact that we've had this diplomatic feud between the United States and Cuba going on for many, many years. So it's in a very sort of complicated, legal, political, emotional mess.
HEMMER: That it is. And I want to pick up on another thought that happened in that hearing again that I mentioned -- three-hour hearing 12 days ago. In it, Judge Moore asked why the INS did not simply reject the asylum application filed on Elian's behalf. Apparently, that seems to be the issue that lied with the judge at that point. Fair to assume or not?
VAN SUSTEREN: Well, I think that certainly foreshadowed what his decision was going to be today -- his decision as we understand it. I have not read the 50 pages of his decision yet, but what we understand is he said that the decision to send the -- the decision whether to send the boy back or not lies with the attorney general who oversees INS. So it seems like he thought that was the answer when he heard the arguments. He's now spent the last approximately 12 days researching it, and apparently he is now convinced that he was right when he asked that question.
HEMMER: And we are almost four months into this issue. It was late November when Elian was plucked from the waters off the coast of Florida. It doesn't appear that it may end today, but we'll track it.
Greta Van Susteren in Washington, thanks. We'll be back in touch this morning, Greta. Thank you.
Now to Daryn for more on this.
DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Of course this tug-of-war over the 6- year-boy has been taking part in two countries: here in the U.S., also in Cuba, with reaction in Havana.
We have our Havana bureau chief, Lucia Newman, on the phone.
Lucia, any reaction yet from Cuba?
LUCIA NEWMAN, CNN HAVANA BUREAU CHIEF: Good morning, Daryn. Well, this decision has just come down, but quite obviously, this was the decision that Elian Gonzalez's father and his relatives here in Cuba as well as, of course, the Cuban government were awaiting for, a decision that does throw the ball in the court of the INS again. But then, of course, the attorney general has made it clear that she believes that Elian Gonzalez should be reunited with his father back here in this country.
Naturally, this is, as we've been saying all along, already four months since this whole saga began and it doesn't look like it's over yet. It's more than likely that the boy's relatives in Miami will appeal this decision, and so certainly the Cuban government and the family here are not crying victory yet. They know that this will probably go yet to another court in Atlanta, most likely, and so they will have to keep waiting for the boy to return here. There will certainly not be victory celebrations in this country, Daryn.
KAGAN: Lucia, it's still early, as we heard Greta mention, and an appeal can still be filed in this case. It's not like Elian is on his way back to Cuba yet, but are there any contingency plans that have been made on the part of the family, do you know, in Cuba that, when the time comes, to come and pick him up?
NEWMAN: Well, it has been said -- we know that the boy's father has hired a prominent lawyer in the United States and members -- prominent members of the Cuban government have said that if and when it can be guaranteed that the boy will be handed over to his father, then Juan Miguel Gonzalez, Elian's father, would then be willing to travel to the United States to pick him up, Daryn.
KAGAN: Lucia Newman on the phone from Havana.
As we said, it's just minutes old, this decision -- or news of this decision where a federal district judge has decided that the fate of 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez lies in the hands of the attorney general who long ago decided that the INS should decide, and that Elian would go back to Cuba.
With more on the story, here's Bill.
HEMMER: All right, Daryn. As I mentioned, almost four months, roughly 20 weeks since Elian Gonzalez came here to southern Florida.
Susan Candiotti now with a quick look back at the facts so far as this story has unfolded.
SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The government and Elian's Florida relatives went head to head March 9 over whether the youngster deserved the right to apply for political asylum. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The child, Elian Gonzalez, regardless of the fact that he is 6-years-old, has the right to file a petition for asylum. That's it.
CANDIOTTI: Citing both international and U.S. law, the Justice Department insists no one but the boy's father can make legal decision for a child so young.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Parents have the right to speak for their children.
CANDIOTTI: In Cuba, Juan Miguel Gonzalez says he wants his boy home.
JUAN MIGUEL GONZALEZ, ELIAN'S FATHER (through translator): It simply is a matter of fact he is my son and he belongs to me.
CANDIOTTI: In Florida, Elian's life has settled into a daily routine, going to school while ever-present photographers track his arrival and departure. The boy remains a poster child for Cuban exiles. They've made him a mythical figure and a symbol of defiance against a communist regime.
Fidel Castro has also made the boy a symbol, criticizing the U.S., as he says it, for "cow-towing to the Cuban exile Mafia." There are been side shows, lots of them: showering the boy with expensive gifts, taking him to Disney World, parading the boy with a congressional subpoena that never panned out, uncovering a drunk driving record of the great uncle where Elian's been living. There was the visit from Elian's grandmothers at the home of a Catholic nun. Sister Jeanne O'Laughlin agreed to provide a neutral setting than lobbied Congress for the boy to stay in the U.S. She reportedly said a grandmother told her Elian's father wanted it that way, then said she was misquoted.
For 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez, it's been a political, legal and familial maelstrom, a scenario that appears a lot to bear for a child of such tender years.
Susan Candiotti, CNN, Miami.
KAGAN: And with more now on the decision from the federal district judge, let's bring in our Mark Potter who is in our Miami bureau.
Mark, what have you been able to learn about the decision?
MARK POTTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we actually have it in hand, and here it is. It's 50 pages long. And the bottom line is that this is a major victory for the government which has all along said that it wants to send Elian Gonzalez back to Cuba to join his father.
In the ruling, the federal judge, Michael Moore, threw out the request -- threw it out, the request by the Miami relatives that the government be ordered to give the boy an asylum hearing and that the government be stopped from sending the boy back to Cuba. The government threw out that motion.
I'll read from the conclusion. The last line is the one that is most important. It said, "the determination to grant asylum is a matter within the discretion of the attorney general. She has decided the issue of who may speak for the plaintiff" -- in this case Elian Gonzalez -- "and her decision by statute, and in the exercise of congressionally delegated discretion, is controlling as a matter of law."
Now, Janet Reno has said all along that the only person who can speak for Elian Gonzalez is his father in Cuba. And the father has said all along he does not want an asylum hearing, he wants the boy returned to Cuba. So, again, this is a major victory for the government. The case brought by the relatives in Miami has been thrown out.
Now, this is not the end of the case by any stretch. The lawyers for the boy and for his relatives in Miami have said all along that if they get a negative ruling, which they got today, they would clearly appeal it, first to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals and then, if need be, to the U.S. Supreme Court -- Daryn.
KAGAN: Mark, it doesn't seem like Elian Gonzalez is going back to Cuba any time soon. Do we expect to hear any reaction from the family any time today, or is it even too soon to know that?
POTTER: No, I can guarantee you that we'll hear from the family today. They have indicated that they would speak today. They probably will be at the courthouse filing their appeal.
As to the boy going back to Cuba immediately, no, that's not going to happen. It still needs to wind its way through the legal process. But this is a major step in that process and a major blow to the relatives of Elian Gonzalez and to their lawyers -- a major victory for the government.
KAGAN: Mark Potter reporting from our Miami bureau.
Mark, thank you very much.
Once again, a federal district judge has ruled in the case of Elian Gonzalez that it is up to Attorney General Janet Reno what the fate will be of 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez. And the attorney general has said that she supports the INS, and that Elian Gonzalez should go back to his native Cuba.
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