- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 13, 2000

Attorney General Janet Reno yesterday rejected a Florida judge's decision to hear the case of 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez, saying the state court had no jurisdiction in the dispute that has angered Cubans on both sides of the Straits of Florida.
To give the 6-year-old boy's Florida relatives time to challenge the decision, Miss Reno postponed tomorrow's deadline set by the federal government for turning him over for return to Cuba. But initial reaction from the relatives' lawyers appeared to spurn Miss Reno's suggestion that they argue the case in federal court.
Defiant lawyers for the boy responded by saying his relatives in Miami would not turn Elian over to immigration agents without a federal court order.
"The boy will not be surrendered, period," Jose Garcia-Pedrosa, a lawyer for Elian's Miami relatives, said in an interview with Reuters news agency. "They either have to take him by force, which would be scandalous, or they have to go to federal court, which is what they should do."
The lawyers said they would file a federal lawsuit in Miami seeking to force the Immigration and Naturalization Service to grant Elian a political asylum hearing. The INS said it was prepared to defend its position in court.
"We have a [Florida] court order that says the boy stays for now," Mr. Garcia-Pedrosa told WTVJ-TV in Miami. "We have a subpoena [from Congress] that requires him to appear in February. The boy isn't going anywhere."
"I think the attorney general should rethink her position very, very, very quickly," the lawyer said.
Miami-Dade County Circuit Judge Rosa Rodriguez on Monday granted temporary custody to Elian's great-uncle, Lazaro Gonzalez, with whom the boy has been living since he was rescued from an inner tube off the Florida coast on Thanksgiving Day. She scheduled a custody hearing for March.
But Miss Reno said yesterday that the Florida state court had no right to intervene in the case, in which the INS has already ruled that Elian must be returned to his father in Cuba.
"I am not currently aware of any basis for reversing [INS] Commissioner [Doris] Meissner's decision that Juan Gonzalez Elian's father has the sole authority to speak for his son on immigration matters," Mrs. Reno said in a letter to Elian's attorneys.
The INS ruling said Elian should be sent back no later than tomorrow to his father, who has failed to take advantage of an invitation to come to Miami to pick up the boy although it is not clear whether Cuban authorities will allow him to do so. The father has designated an American church organization to bring him to Cuba.
But the INS has said repeatedly that it has no intention of forcibly taking custody of the the boy, and Miss Reno's letter yesterday extended the deadline. "It is not appropriate to commence removal proceedings against this 6-year-old boy," she wrote.
The Reno letter did not address a congressional subpoena issued last week by Rep. Dan Burton, Indiana Republican and chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, as a legal device to keep Elian in the United States pending further action.
"That subpoena is under review by the lawyers at the Justice Department at this time," said Russ Bergeron, spokesman for the INS.
A spokesman for Mr. Burton said yesterday that committee lawyers were studying the Reno letter, adding there was a growing feeling in Congress that the child's future should be determined in court.
"This should not be decided by some INS bureaucrat. It needs to be decided by a court, where both sides can make their case before a judge," said Mark Corallo. "We are not taking sides, but this situation needs a judicial cure, not an administrative cure."
Florida Gov. Jeb Bush expressed dismay at Miss Reno's ruling.
"Governor Bush is very disappointed in the U.S. attorney general's ruling and does not believe it is in the best interests of the child," said Elizabeth Hirst, the governor's spokeswoman.
Elian's relatives in Miami stayed out of the public eye yesterday while reviewing their legal options.
"The family is sad. We are all very sad about [Miss Reno's] decision," said Ramon Saul Sanchez, the organizer of a civil disobedience campaign to keep Elian in the United States.
"If the Justice Department refrains from action in deporting the child, we remain on standby… . If the Justice Department decides to take him back to Cuba, the call will go out and we will protest that decision very energetically," Mr. Sanchez said.
He said Cuban-Americans would clog Miami International Airport with slow-moving vehicles if any U.S. government agency tried to forcibly return the child to Cuba.

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