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News Chat

John Zarrella

CNNís John Zarrella Discusses the INS Decision
on Elian Gonzalez

April 11, 2000
Web posted at: 2:00 p.m. EDT


(CNN) -- Immigration officials told the family of Elian Gonzalez on Tuesday, March 28, to sign assurances they will hand over the boy if a court tells them to, or else the boy's custody will be revoked. The announcement spurred demonstrations from those on both sides of the issue. With Elianís father due in the United States to take custody, the debate escalated in intensity, and both sides maneuvered for public support.

CNNís Miami bureau chief, John Zarrella, joined a News chat Tuesday, March 28, 2000 to discuss the tough stance of Immigration officials immediately "TalkBack Live" interviewed family members while INS officials held a press conference on their latest position. He participated in the chat via telephone from Miami. CNN.com provided a typist. The following is an edited transcript of that chat.

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Chat Moderator: Welcome once again, John Zarrella.

John Zarrella: Again, my pleasure to join the chat.

Chat Moderator: What is the latest in the Elian Gonzalez case? Did any news come out of the very recent INS press conference?

John Zarrella: Yes, in fact, the latest news just broke moments ago here in Miami. A spokeswoman for the Immigration and Naturalization Service read a statement saying in part that Elian's Uncle Lazaro is expected to meet with them tomorrow afternoon. At that meeting the INS hopes Lazaro will agree to sign the document that insures he will turn Elian over if the family loses its court appeals.

So far, the family has refused to sign the document. They say it is too open-ended. The INS has countered, saying it is simply a standard document.

Chat Moderator: What did you think of today's edition of "TalkBack Live?"

John Zarrella: It was particularly fascinating when the boy's cousin, Marislysis, requested to be on the program. She was extremely eloquent. Her arguments were extremely persuasive. And you could hear in her voice the genuine affection she holds for Elian.

Marislysis is really the family member closest to Elian. When asked if the family would sign the document the INS is insisting upon, she said she did not want her father to do that, that it would be a betrayal of Elian.

There were some very moving moments in the conversation between Bobby Batista and Marislysis. I felt it was a very dramatic interview.

Chat Moderator: Was Marislysis Gonzalez expected to appear on "TalkBack Live" today?

John Zarrella: No, to my knowledge, the only guest scheduled to appear was the family spokesman. But when he was finished, Marislysis requested that CNN put her on the program.

Chat Moderator: Why would she appear last minute on live TV at this time?

John Zarrella: It appears from what we are seeing, there is a concerted effort by the family to step up its efforts to guarantee, or at least to help garner, more public support for their case.

In other words, we have often heard the expression "the court of public opinion." Clearly the family is in the midst of a full court press to win over more and more people.

Question from John: Why is the U.S. news media afraid to have a little boy have his say live on the air?

John Zarrella: Very simply, there are laws in this country that protect minors. And in the case of Elian Gonzalez, clearly the issue is one of protection, because he is a minor. It's the law.

Question from Tory: How much contact does Elian have with his father now?

John Zarrella: During the "TalkBack Live" interview, his cousin Marislysis was asked that very question. She indicated that Elian talks to his father once a day, and that he used to talk to his father more often. But according to Marislysis, Elian doesn't want to talk to his father now more than once a day.

Question from HiF|yer: Do you think the family made a good decision to take this case to the media instead of keeping it 'in the family?'

John Zarrella: That is certainly a difficult question. From what I have heard from other experts, it appears that by making the case as public as it has become, the family has probably got a far better chance of achieving its goal than if they had not gone public. But that's not to say that we have any indication how good their chance really is.

Question from Tory: When will the appeal begin?

John Zarrella: The 11th Circuit Court has asked that attorneys representing the family file their briefs by April 10. The response by the government to those briefs is to be filed by April 14, and oral arguments in Atlanta before the court will begin the week of May 8.

Comment from DrJoe: The longer this goes on, it stalls the inevitable, a clearly disturbed child who is going home to Cuba.

John Zarrella: And clearly that is the point that Attorney General Janet Reno has in all of her remarks on this case been attempting to drive home, that the case needs to be resolved swiftly.Question from

DrJoe: What law prevents the INS from getting the child now and returning him to his father?

John Zarrella: The INS has always had the authority to revoke the boy's parole status, which is what they are threatening to do now, and to reunite him with his father.

Nothing prevents the INS except that INS has maintained right along, as has the Justice Department, that they wanted the case to be decided orderly and quickly and in a court of law if the Miami relatives so chose.

The Justice Department maintained that it did not and would not force a confrontation to forcibly remove the boy. That is why the Justice Department says it now wants the guarantee in writing from Lazaro that if the family loses in court, they will turn Elian over. The INS, again, is stressing that they don't want confrontation.

Chat Moderator: Do you have any final thoughts on the latest developments in this story today?

John Zarrella: Tomorrow will be yet another in what has become an unending series of critical days in the Elian Gonzalez saga. The question for tomorrow will be, "what does the family do?"

Do they sign the government document? Do they try another avenue of appeal? It is, pardon the cliche, "wait and see."

Chat Moderator: Thank you, John Zarrella, for joining us immediately after the INS press conference and the "TalkBack Live" interview of Elian Gonzalez's Miami relatives.

John Zarrella: Once again, as always, a pleasure to chat with you.


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