Magazine article Insight on the News

The Rush to Nab Elian

Magazine article Insight on the News

The Rush to Nab Elian

Article excerpt

The Immigration and Naturalization Service, or INS, clearly was obeying White House orders when it broke down doors of Lazaro Gonzalez's Miami home and snatched Elian Gonzalez at gunpoint from the arms of Donato Dalrymple, the man who had plucked him from the sea. The Associated Press photo of the helmeted, begoggled federal agent pointing his assault weapon at the crying child and the stunned fisherman symbolizes how desperate Bill Clinton was to bring closure to the Elian saga by sending the boy back to Cuba.

What most of the on-air discussion of this chilling incident has missed is that the big rush to get Elian out of the hands of his Miami relatives was driven by the appellate-court ruling that under our immigration law there is no minimum age required for a person who is applying for asylum. The court rebuked the government for not having followed its own rules in Elian's case. It arbitrarily had decided that only the father could decide whether his son should seek asylum in this country. The court noted that an application for asylum for Elian had been filed.

Pointing out that the government had not held any hearing on Elian's petition and that its agents never had interviewed the boy, the court issued a temporary injunction barring it from returning Elian to Cuba. It set May 11 as the date on which it would hear arguments. Fearing that the court would rule favorably on Elian's request for asylum, Attorney General Janet Reno acted to remove the boy from the home of his Miami relatives and hand him over to his father as quickly as possible.

The INS had decided on Nov. 30, 1999, that it would leave it to the family courts in Florida to decide whether returning Elian to Cuba would be in his best interest. Asked why the Justice Department later had switched to the position that he should be returned to his father, Reno said that, at the time INS made that decision, the father had not expressed his wishes on the matter and that when he subsequently did so, the INS was obliged to respect his wishes. That is one of many lies that senior U.S. officials have told in discussing their handling of this case.

On Nov. 29, 1999, the Miami Herald reported that the father and the Cuban government had demanded that Elian be returned to Cuba. …

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