Judge orders Elian Gonzalez to remain in the United States until March
MIAMI – A Florida judge on Monday ordered 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez to remain in the United States until March, a ruling that delighted the Cuban boy’s relatives in Miami and defied a federal government order that he be sent back to Cuba by Friday.
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Rosa Rodriguez issued a temporary protective order so she can hear arguments filed by Elian’s Miami relatives, who are seeking temporary custody of him. The order leaves Elian in the custody of the relatives until the March 6 hearing.
Waving a copy of the ruling, Lazaro Gonzalez, the great-uncle who is seeking temporary custody of Elian, yelled ”Victory for Elian!” in Spanish before going inside the family’s home in Little Havana.
”Today is a great day for Elian,” said his attorney, Spencer Eig. ”(The ruling) will provide Elian Gonzalez his day in court.”
If Lazaro Gonzalez is appointed Elian’s guardian, he could seek political asylum for the boy.
Elian was found Thanksgiving Day off the coast of Fort Lauderdale, clinging to an inner tube after his mother, stepfather and others drowned while attempting to reach the United States.
In a case that has touched off huge protests in Miami and Cuba, the Immigration and Naturalization Service ruled last week that Elian should be returned to his father in Cuba by Friday – a ruling endorsed by President Clinton and Attorney General Janet Reno.
The INS said it found that the boy had a close relationship with his father and was ordering Elian back to Cuba because he ”belongs with his father.”
But the judge said Monday that the petition from the boy’s Miami relatives ”contains sufficient verified allegations that if emergency relief is not granted and Elian is returned to Cuba he would be subjected to imminent and irreparable harm, including loss of due process rights and harm to his physical and mental health and emotional well-being.”
INS spokeswoman Maria Cardona said the agency had no comment until its lawyers had a chance to examine the ruling. Another INS spokesman, Mike Gilhooly said: ”The INS has no plans to do any enforcement action on Elian. We have no plans to change the custody arrangement of him being with his Miami family.” He did not elaborate.
Bernard Perlmutter, director of the University of Miami’s Children and Youth Law Clinic, said the judge’s decision was ”politically popular,” but legally wrong. He said the INS can ignore Rodriguez’s decision and return the boy to Cuba.
The Cuban government condemned the ruling. Hassan Perez, president of the government’s Federation of University Students, told thousands of people gathered at a pro-Elian rally: ”Who are these beasts whose hearts do not hear, who fight to keep a child who has become a world symbol?”
Elian’s father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, said his ex-wife did not get his permission to take Elian out of Cuba. Gonzalez, with the backing of the Cuban government, has demanded that his son be returned. But Elian’s relatives in Miami say they can give him a better life off the communist island.
As part of Rodriguez’s ruling, Gonzalez was ordered to appear at the March hearing. Her order said that his ”failure to appear may result in a decision adverse to his interests.” Gonzalez has said that he would not travel to the United States to retrieve his son.
Rodriguez, of Puerto Rican heritage, was elected to the Miami-Dade Circuit Court bench in 1998 and was transferred to family court in the fall after being accused of campaign finance violations by her rival. She denied wrongdoing and an investigation continues.
Miami-Dade Commissioner Jimmy Morales, who backed her campaign, said she will remain objective in determining her decision for Elian. ”She’s extremely bright,” he said. ”I think Elian will get his fair shake with Rosa Rodriguez.”
The international tug-of-war over the young boy now includes several efforts by Congress to intervene in his case. On Friday, Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., tried to delay Elian’s departure by issuing a subpoena that requires the boy to testify before a House committee Feb. 10.
Vice President Al Gore has even become involved, questioning earlier Monday whether the INS had the expertise to decide Elian’s fate.
”I’d like to see the dispute adjudicated in our courts, where traditionally questions like what is best for this child are decided,” Gore said in an interview on NBC’s ”Today” show. ”This child’s mother died in an effort to get her child’s freedom.”
At the White House on Monday, Clinton would not comment on Gore’s comments.
”Anybody’s free to express their opinion about this on whether they think they did right or wrong,” the president said. Like Gore, he also would not comment on Burton’s subpoena.