- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 25, 2000

Members in both houses of Congress yesterday introduced bills to make Elian Gonzalez an American citizen in a move to block the Clinton administration from sending the boy back to Cuba before a Florida court hears the case in March.
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, told the Senate the bill "to grant citizenship to this young boy" could come up for debate as early as Wednesday.
Sen. Connie Mack, Florida Republican and the chief Senate sponsor, told a news conference: "This moves the decision-making out of the hands of the [Immigration and Naturalization Service] and into the hands of the courts."
Meanwhile Elian's grandmothers flew to Miami yesterday to see the boy but left town without seeing the 6 year old because of a dispute over the proposed meeting site.
The boy's maternal grandmother, Raquel Rodriguez, and paternal grandmother, Mariela Quintana, were invited to dinner yesterday at the home of Elian's relatives in Miami, who insisted the meeting take place there.
Bob Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of Churches, which sponsored the women's trip, said last night the grandmothers were scared to come to Miami because of protests by Cuban-Americans who want Elian to stay in the United States.
After flying in from New York, the grandmothers spent about five hours at the airport before getting back on the plane and taking off. They had meetings planned in Washington with members of Congress today.
In an effort to resolve the dispute, a group including Elian's two great-uncles and Mrs. Rodriguez's sister had headed to meet the women at the airport, but they did not bring Elian along, said family spokesman Armando Gutierrez.
Spencer Eig, an attorney for the Miami relatives, said they were told that the grandmothers had no interest in meeting with the great-uncles. The women left before the relatives reached the airport.
Elian has been living with relatives in Miami since he was found adrift on an inner tube on Nov. 25 after a shipwreck that killed his mother.
"It was Elian's mother's dying wish that he come to the United States. Giving him citizenship is a way to honor her memory," said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican and one of the sponsors of the bill.
But the boy's grandmother, Raquel Rodriguez, appealed before flying to Miami yesterday for the senators and congressmen to abandon the legislation.
"It will be more painful if he gets the citizenship," she said in Spanish through an interpreter. "I'm asking the Congress people and people of the United States that have supported us to stop all this. Please, don't make us suffer any longer."
Honorary citizenship has been granted to the late British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, missionary Mother Teresa and World War II-era Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, but otherwise it is rarely granted.
Aides said the Senate could vote on its version of the bill as early as Wednesday, but that is considered unlikely. The House will not vote on its version until next week at the earliest.
A competing bill introduced by Reps. Charles B. Rangel, New York Democrat, and Ray R. LaHood, Illinois Republican, called for Elian to be returned to Cuba.
Rep. Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat, who sponsored yet another bill that would grant Elian permanent residence, but not citizenship, said there had been no headcounts and there was no way of knowing how members would vote.
"Hopefully we can get a majority," said Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen in a telephone interview from Coral Gables, Fla. "But unlike [President Fidel] Castro's Cuba, we are a democracy so it difficult to predict the outcome."
The citizenship bill was introduced in the House by Bill McCollum, Florida Republican, and in the Senate by Mr. Mack.
He said he had "some pretty strong feelings that Elian should stay here in the United States," but that granting him citizenship "does not dictate an outcome" to the case.
Mr. Menendez said his bill, co-sponsored by Democratic Reps. Patrick J. Kennedy of Rhode Island and Peter Deutsch of Florida, was more likely to win President Clinton's signature and would establish a precedent for handling such cases in the courts.

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