Race, Pardons, and a Small Boy from Cuba ; as He Begins His Final Year in Office, President Clinton Expounds On

By Francine Kiefer and James N. Thurman, writers of The Christian | The Christian Science Monitor, January 20, 2000 | Go to article overview

Race, Pardons, and a Small Boy from Cuba ; as He Begins His Final Year in Office, President Clinton Expounds On


Francine Kiefer and James N. Thurman, writers of The Christian, The Christian Science Monitor


President Clinton, in his most extensive comments yet on the tangled case of Elian Gonzalez, emphasized the importance of family unity - even when it means returning children to countries where "we don't like the government."

He implicitly warned Congress not to make a special grant of American citizenship to the six-year-old to keep him in this country - a move that could set up the first showdown of 2000 between the White House and Capitol Hill.

With his remarks, he threw the full weight of his office behind the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), which has ruled Elian should return to his father in Cuba.

The president outlined his views in an interview with the Monitor while on an anticrime visit to Boston this week. Relaxed and talkative after a breakfast of "good grits" at Mike's City Diner earlier in the day, Mr. Clinton covered an array of topics - from cyberwarfare to forgiveness.

Alternatively pensive and impassioned in the 50-minute interview, sitting cross-legged one moment and stirring the air with his fingers the next, Clinton:

*Suggested that the White House will eventually issue an executive order to "get rid of" racial profiling by federal law- enforcement authorities.

*Cited learning in the past two years of the importance of forgiving others - even to "seventy times seven," as the Bible puts it - if he expects to be forgiven.

*Noted that his 2001 budget, due out Feb. 7, will move the nation toward eliminating the $5.7 trillion national debt in 15 years.

*Intimated that he will look to grant more pardons this year, despite the controversy that erupted over the clemency he gave several Puerto Rican nationalists last fall.

*Said he was "profoundly" grateful to the press for generally leaving his daughter alone during the first family's tenure at the White House.

Until now, the president has said little on Elian's case, except that he supports the INS decision to send the boy back to Cuba.

But he made it clear he puts reuniting the Gonzalez family above the political question of which country would offer the most opportunity for the boy, whom he said could be only "dimly aware" of the "scars from his mother's death."

"We need to think long and hard whether we're going to take the position that any person who comes to our shores who is a minor, any minor child who loses his or her parents, should never be sent home to another parent - even if that parent is capable of doing a very good job - if we don't like the government of the country where the people lived."

If lawmakers disagree with the INS decision, he said, the place to fight it is in federal court - not with special legislation to make Elian a US citizen.

Citizenship, he said, "would irrevocably lead people to the conclusion that this was much more about politics than it was whether that little boy ought to be taken away from his father."

But Clinton also had harsh words for Cuban leader Fidel Castro. "I think the way he has attempted to politicize this is also terrible," he said, adding that, generally, Cuba has "blown every conceivable opportunity to get closer to the United States."

Diligence on race relations

Since he first took office, the president has put improving race relations high on his agenda. While the living standards of minorities have improved with the strong economy, he disputed the premise that attitudes about race remain largely unchanged.

One example he pointed to was the recent reaction to Atlanta Braves pitcher John Rocker, whose disparaging comments about New York City's homosexual, minority, and immigrant populations kicked up a racial dust storm. "The unfortunate comments that the Atlanta baseball player made - that's really troubling. On the other hand, the fact that Hank Aaron and Andy Young met with him is encouraging," the president said.

Clinton called the fight against racism "the sort of work that may never be done," but said he needs to keep highlighting the issue, working to reduce the economic and education gaps between whites and minorities. …

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