- The Washington Times - Friday, June 2, 2000

Reaction to the Atlanta ruling on Elian Gonzalez swept quickly across the country Thursday, from Capitol Hill to Miami and even to Nevada, where George W. Bush weighed in on the matter.

Congressional backers of the Cuban boy deplored the court decision that opens the way for his return to Cuba.

"It can never be in a child's best interests to live under communist tyranny, and I hope that the appeals process will ultimately result in providing Elian Gonzalez with a life of liberty," said House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, Texas Republican.

Some Democrats shared the view. Rep. Robert Menendez of New Jersey said he would push the House to allow children a hearing when they are fleeing repressive countries.

"I believe the appeals court decision has sealed Elian's fate to a life under a dictatorship that does not share our freedoms and our family values," Mr. Menendez said. "It also sets a dangerous precedent for children fleeing dangerous regimes worldwide."

The current law does not specify an age limit for an asylum hearing, saying that any alien can request a hearing before being sent back to his home country. The INS, however, took the position that the law could not apply to a child, who is generally assumed to be too young to make important legal decisions.

Mr. Menendez said that interpretation was "clearly not the intent of Congress," which passed the asylum law in its broader form.

He said he will try to make that clear by changing the law.

Said Sen. Bob Graham, Florida Democrat: "We need to change that unacceptable status quo… . A cruel combination of fate and law has made a tragedy of Elian Gonzalez's life.

"If Elian's plight and today's court decision teach us anything, it is that our immigration laws do not account for the special needs of children. These laws do not treat children fairly or with proper sensitivity."

Sen. Connie Mack, Florida Republican, said the ruling mars the rule of law under which the United States was established.

"Our democracy should work to make the journey to freedom easier, not more complex. The denial of a court hearing either on custody or asylum leaves a black mark on our democracy," he said.

But Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the senior Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, agreed with the ruling.

"The court underscored common sense in deciding that a little 6-year-old boy belongs with his father," he said.

Meanwhile, Mr. Bush called on Vice President Al Gore to urge the Clinton administration to move the Elian custody battle to a family court.

Campaigning in Nevada, Mr. Bush criticized the decision and urged Mr. Gore to take action to change the venue for the custody dispute.

"I continue to believe that it's in the child's best interests for the decision to be made in a family Florida court, a court whose job it is to decide the best interests of the child," Mr. Bush told reporters.

"The vice president has made a similar statement, and I would hope that he would call on the attorney general to take this ruling and for her to allow the decision to be made in a family court," he said.

But Mr. Gore seemed resigned to Thursday's court decision, even as he described his own wish for a family court solution.

"I've long believed that the best way to have handled it would have been to have put it in a family court," Mr. Gore said as he campaigned in Atlanta.

"However, now it's in the federal courts," he said. "I think this decision must be accepted with respect as the appeals process continues, at least for a short time, and we all hope for the best for this young boy who's been through so much."

In Miami, the boy's relatives said they would battle on to win the castaway a political asylum hearing.

"We're going to keep fighting for the liberty of Elian," his great-uncle, Lazaro Gonzalez, said. "We will keep fighting with the laws … so Elian Gonzalez can live in a free country like his mother wanted."

Mr. Lazaro's daughter, Marisleysis Gonzalez, alternately defiant and fighting back tears, said she had recently phoned the home where Elian is staying but that a schoolmate's mother who answered refused to let her speak to Elian.

Outside the home where Elian lived with the Gonzalez family in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood, four dozen protesters wept, chanted "Liberty for Elian" and waved American and Cuban flags. Some wore T-shirts saying "The Devil Snatched Elian."

One woman collapsed, screaming and shaking uncontrollably when the ruling came, and was taken away by paramedics.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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