Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

For INS, the Call Seemed Routine -- It Wasn't

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

For INS, the Call Seemed Routine -- It Wasn't

Article excerpt

MIAMI -- It was about 10:40 on Thanksgiving morning when Edward Agundez's phone rang at the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service in Fort Lauderdale.

The call seemed routine: "Minor was rescued by two fishermen 3 miles out to sea from the Port Everglades port of entry," supervisory immigration inspecto Agundez noted in a 12-line handwritten report later that day.

He hung up and headed over to the hospital where the young rafter had been taken, suffering from dehydration and hypothermia. Agundez indicated in a sworn declaration that it took him fewer than three hours to do the interviews and paperwork and consult with his supervisor to make the decisions that his agency would spend more than five months trying to undo. And, by the INS' reckoning even now, he did it all by the book.

But what happened in the next 48 hours turned the book upside-down. For the first time in the 41 years since Fidel Castro's revolution, the INS was faced with a Cuban parent -- the sole parent -- who wanted his son sent home.

To claim Elian, Lazaro Gonzalez told immigration officials he was the boy's great-uncle and identified him in photographs.

Agundez also checked the Miami relatives' residence cards and driver's licenses. And on that alone -- far less proof, some immigration attorneys assert, than other nationalities would require -- INS official Simon Nader advised Agundez by phone to give Elian to his great-uncle.

The boy's father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, was required to produce scores of documents and sit for two lengthy interviews with an INS official in Cuba to prove his right to speak, act and care for his own child.

"What bothers me the most is that I must prove paternity of my son, and what have they asked the relatives in the U.S. to present as proof of relationship?" an incredulous Juan Miguel asked the INS official during the second interview Dec. …

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