- The Washington Times - Friday, April 21, 2000

Justice Department officials sought to regroup Thursday after suffering a stinging rebuke by a federal appeals court that blocked the government's attempt to send Elian Gonzalez back to Cuba.
Attorney General Janet Reno met with key advisers, including U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service Commissioner Doris M. Meissner, to discuss their next steps.
In Miami, where Elian's relatives celebrated the court's Wednesday afternoon decision, the boy's great-uncle Lazaro Gonzalez offered to bring Elian to meet his father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, whom he has not seen since he left Cuba in November.
The great-uncle, who had refused a meeting previously for fear that Elian would be snatched from him, said he felt reassured by Wednesday's court order ensuring that the 6-year-old cannot be removed from the United States.
"It's time that the family got together to deal with this as a family no preconditions, no government, no lawyers," said Miami attorney Kendall Coffey, who represents the Miami relatives.
"Rather than insist that the boy go to Washington to see the father, why can't a grown-up get on a plane and come down to South Florida?" he added. "Maybe he should come down this Easter?"
In Washington, Juan Miguel's attorney, Gregory Craig, said any meeting must begin with the father being given custody.
"It is long past time for this boy to be reunited with his father," he said. "The only meeting that we really care about is the reunion with the son."
In a televised appeal Thursday afternoon, the father also urged the American people to write and call President Clinton and Miss Reno to urge immediate action to reunite him with his son.
"Don't let them continue to abuse my son," Juan Miguel said in Spanish outside the Cuban diplomat's Bethesda, Md., home where he and his wife and infant son have been staying. "I really wish to be with my son. He belongs with me."
Justice Department officials were considering several options Thursday.
"We are taking stock, considering our next move," said INS spokeswoman Maria Cardona. "We were surprised by some of the language" of the court ruling, but "it doesn't preclude us from reuniting Elian with his father."
The department's options include:
Asking the full 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta or the U.S. Supreme Court to lift the stay on removing Elian. Department lawyers say the government and Juan Miguel have already offered to stay in the country until an asylum hearing scheduled for May 11.
Petitioning a federal court to order Lazaro Gonzalez to comply with instructions he already has received from Miss Reno and the INS to hand over the boy. The department made a similar request of the 11th Circuit Court, which declined to review the question.
Leaving Elian in Little Havana until the May 11 hearing on the appeal by the Miami relatives that he be granted political asylum. The appeal also will be heard by the 11th Circuit Court. This option could include facilitating a meeting among the father, the son and the Miami relatives.
Sending INS agents and U.S. marshals to forcibly remove the boy from the Miami home and returning him to his father in Washington. Mr. Clinton said Thursday he saw no reason why that should not happen, but Miss Reno has said she wants to resolve the situation as peaceably as possible.
Justice Department officials said they are still hoping for a private meeting of the family which Miss Reno initially proposed during her trip last week to Miami. The government had offered to fly the family members to Washington as part of a transfer of the boy to his father.
One possible meeting site is a U.S. Postal Inspection Service training facility in Potomac, Md., known as the William F. Bolger Center for Leadership Development. It is located behind fences on several acres and has an on-site dormitory, dining facilities, classrooms and a fitness center.
There also have been discussions about possible private sites in Florida, including Orlando.
Linda Osberg-Braun, an attorney for the Miami family, said her clients preferred to hold the private meeting "within driving distance" of the South Florida home.
The family does not object to Elian attending at least part of the meeting, but adamantly rejects Mr. Craig's central condition that the father assume custody at any such meeting.
The atmosphere was much less tense Thursday outside the Miami house, where the familiar crowd of demonstrators showed up to support the family's fight. Elian, who has not left the property in seven days, emerged occasionally from the house to play in the side yard with cousin Marisleysis and with visiting friends.
Many in the crowd sang hymns and said prayers, saying they were still not certain the federal government would not move to seize the boy.
On Wednesday, a three-judge panel of the federal appeals court supported an order against removing Elian from the United States until the May hearing, saying his application for asylum had "arguable merit."
"Not only does it appear that plaintiff might be entitled to apply personally for asylum, it appears that he did so. According to the record, plaintiff although a young child has expressed a wish that he not be returned to Cuba," the court said.
It extended a temporary injunction issued last week that keeps Elian in the country and turned aside a government request to order the family to give up custody of Elian. The court also rebuked the INS for its handling of the boy's asylum request, saying it appeared the agency never sought to interview Elian "about his own wishes."
The three judges are J.L. Edmondson, appointed to the bench in 1986 by President Reagan; Joel F. Dubina, named in 1990 by President Bush; and Charles R. Wilson, nominated last year by Mr. Clinton. Judge Wilson is the only black judge on the circuit court.
The order does not prevent the Justice Department from taking Elian from the Miami house where he has lived since he was rescued at sea in November.
Miss Reno, who on Wednesday night postponed a trip to Montana to handle the Elian matter, said, "I believe Elian should be reunited with his father, and I said that all along."
At the White House, spokesman Joe Lockhart said Mr. Clinton had spoken with Miss Reno for about 45 minutes on Wednesday aboard Air Force One as the two traveled back to Washington from Oklahoma and that he supports her effort to reunite the boy with his father "in a way that is prompt and orderly."
Mr. Lockhart declined to comment on Mr. Clinton's role in the decision-making process except to repeat that he was being "briefed" on the status of the case.
David R. Sands reported from Miami.

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