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INS Says Boy Should Go Back to Cuba

January 6, 2000

MIAMI (AP) _ Attorney General Janet Reno virtually closed the door today on any chance she would reverse the immigration commissioner’s decision to return 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez to his father in Cuba.

``Based on all the information we have to date, I see no basis for reversing,″ she told reporters in Washington. Reno said she has consulted with Doris Meissner, commissioner of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, and agreed with the decision.

Wednesday’s decision was denounced by lawyers for the boy’s U.S. relatives, who asked Reno to reverse it and planned to ask a federal judge for a restraining order. It also sparked angry protests in Miami and a rally in Cuba attended by Fidel Castro.

Reno said she had not fully studied the letter from Miami relatives asking her to reverse the ruling, and could not absolutely rule out a change ``if any information we are not privy to″ comes to light.

The boy’s whereabouts today were kept secret after six weeks of dispute over where he should be. He was found Thanksgiving Day clinging to an inner tube at sea after his mother, stepfather and eight other people drowned while trying to reach Florida by boat.

To protest the INS ruling, two dump trucks and a pickup truck slowed all three lanes of downtown-bound traffic to about 20 mph during this morning’s rush hour on the major east-west route in Miami.

The Florida Highway Patrol issued several citations to drivers slowing traffic and warned the motorists that they would be arrested if they did it again.

The pickup driver, Esteban Asencio, who received an $83 ticket, said: ``What they’re doing is immoral, illegal and the kid needs to have a date in court.″

On NBC’s ``Today″ show, Elian’s cousin, Marisleysis Gonzalez, said the boy hasn’t been told of the decision to send him back because it may not prove final.

``It’s very hard for us to tell him he has to go back,″ she said. Relatives plan to tell him something tonight.

Explaining her decision, Meissner said the boy and his father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, had a ``close and continuous relationship″ even though the boy’s parents were divorced.

The INS commissioner said the father ``made it very clear that he wants Elian returned to him as soon as possible.″ She said the child must be back in Cuba by Jan. 14.

Elian’s family here contends the INS is violating its own rules by not allowing the boy to apply for asylum.

``I always thought this was a place of liberty, and they are not letting him keep that liberty,″ Ms. Gonzalez said. ``It’s always about the father. What about the mother? That was his mother’s will.″

David Abraham, an immigration law professor at the University of Miami, said the family won’t have much of a case.

``There is no legal basis″ to block Elian’s return, Abraham said. ``If this child came from anywhere else, he would have been home within 48 hours.″

The international tug-of-war over the boy has led to huge protests in Cuba, where Castro planned another demonstration day. On Wednesday, the Cuban government warned against ``excessive optimism″ about the decision.

President Clinton said he had honored a pledge to keep politics out of the issue and that the INS made its decision ``after an exhaustive review of the facts.″

Meissner said reuniting families ``has long been a cornerstone of both American immigration law and U.S. practice.″ The boy, ``who has been through so much, belongs with his father,″ she said.