- The Washington Times - Friday, January 21, 2000

The case of 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez constitutes an alarming example of the lengths to which the Clinton administration will go to placate the Cuban dictatorship. Congress must be willing to act to protect Elian because the Clinton administration is systematically attempting to deny the child his due process rights.

Elian miraculously survived a desperate voyage that saw the drowning of his mother and her husband. Elian's mother denied herself the little drinking water she possessed so that her son might have a chance to live. The two adults who survived the voyage describe how Elian's mother would constantly cry out the prayer that her son survive and reach freedom in the United States.

Elian was rescued by American fishermen on Thanksgiving Day and taken to a hospital in South Florida. After having been legally admitted into the United States, Elian was placed by the Immigration and Naturalization Service in the care of his father's relatives in Miami, and the family has unquestionably provided Elian with a loving environment.

When the INS placed Elian in the care of his relatives in South Florida, it issued the following statement, on Dec. 1, 1999: "Although INS has no role in the family custody decision process, we have discussed this case with State of Florida officials who have confirmed that the issue of legal custody must be decided by its state court. Elian will remain in the U.S. until the issues surrounding his custody are resolved. If Elian's family is unable to resolve the question of his custody, it is our understanding that the involved parties will have to file in Florida family court. Either Elian's father in Cuba or his U.S.-based family members may initiate proceedings."

The Cuban dictator, Fidel Castro, was profoundly disturbed by recent public relations debacles such as the November Ibero-American Summit in Havana where the Cuban internal opposition received significant international media attention, and by having had to cancel his scheduled visit to the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle due to his publicly acknowledged fear of being arrested for having personally ordered the murders of U.S. citizens. Accordingly, Mr. Castro came up with a public relations stunt to divert attention from the recent, dangerous setbacks to his regime.

On Dec. 5, 1999, Mr. Castro issued a "72-hour ultimatum" to President Clinton, demanding that the United States make clear that it would return Elian to Cuba. Two days later, Mr. Clinton ordered the INS to reverse its own position, that it had made public on Dec. 1, and thus began the Clinton campaign to return Elian to totalitarian Cuba.

The law is clear (the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act, the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act, the Hague Conventions of 1960 and 1980 on the protection of minors) that only a court of law may rule on the custody of a minor.

A Florida court on Jan. 10 granted Elian's great-uncle in Miami temporary custody of the minor pending a full evidentiary hearing on the matter of custody on March 6. The court held that "if Elian is returned to Cuba he faces the threat of mistreatment or abuse including the loss of any due process rights." The court asked that Elian's father come to the United States to present his views pursuant to legal procedure.

Inconceivably, Attorney General Janet Reno stated that the Clinton administration would ignore the court order. No one can ignore a court order in this country. If the attorney general disagrees with a court order, she may seek to quash or overturn it in court, but she cannot legally ignore it.

Furthermore, Miss Reno misrepresented the Florida court's order by stating the court had ruled on federal immigration matters when it clearly did not. The court simply granted temporary custody to Elian's great-uncle in South Florida pending a full hearing on March 6 and ordered that Elian not be taken out of the court's jurisdiction until that time.

Why must Congress be willing to get involved? Because this issue cuts to the bone of who we are as a nation; because the Clinton administration has illegally and unconscionably placed the full power of the federal government against a 6-year-old boy whom it seeks to return to the life of oppression which his mother died to free him from; because the last will and testament of his mother, valiantly expressed by the offering of her life, deserves its full day in court.Congress needs to investigate the Clinton administration's abrupt change of its own decision in this case, 48-hours into Mr. Castro's "ultimatum." And we must be ready to act so that Elian is not sent back to a life of totalitarianism before the critical issue of his custody can be fully dealt with by our courts under the rule of law.

Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart is a Florida Republican.

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