Ruling Keeps Cuban Boy in U.S.
MIAMI (AP) _ Elian Gonzalez isn’t leaving the United States any time soon.
A Florida judge ruled Monday that the 6-year-old boy can stay at least until a March 6 custody hearing. The Immigration and Naturalization Agency also said it had no intention of trying to send him back to Cuba, after earlier setting a Friday deadline.
``The INS has no plans to do any enforcement action on Elian,″ INS spokesman Mike Gilhooly said. ``We have no plans to change the custody arrangement of him being with his Miami family.″
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Rosa Rodriguez issued a temporary protective order so she can hear arguments filed by Elian’s Miami relatives, who are seeking temporary custody. The order leaves Elian in their custody until the hearing.
Waving a copy of the ruling, Lazaro Gonzalez, the great-uncle who is seeking custody, yelled ``Victory for Elian!″ in Spanish before going inside the family’s home in Little Havana. If he is appointed Elian’s guardian, he could seek asylum for the boy.
``Today is a great day for Elian,″ said his attorney, Spencer Eig. ″(The ruling) will provide Elian Gonzalez his day in court.″
Elian was found Thanksgiving Day off the coast of Fort Lauderdale, clinging to an inner tube after his mother, stepfather and others drowned while attempting to reach the United States.
In a case that has touched off huge protests in Miami and Cuba, the INS ruled last week that Elian should be returned to his father in Cuba, a ruling endorsed by President Clinton and Attorney General Janet Reno.
The INS said it found the boy had a close relationship with his father and was ordering Elian back to Cuba because he ``belongs with his father.″
But the judge said the boy’s Miami relatives had shown Elian would face ``imminent and irreparable harm″ if he was returned to Cuba, including the ``loss of due process rights and harm to his physical and mental health and emotional well-being.″
The Cuban government condemned the ruling, and those at a rally Monday likened Cuban exiles to ``beasts.″
Elian’s father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, has demanded that his son be returned. Elian’s relatives in Miami say they can give him a better life off the communist island.
The judge has ordered Gonzalez to be at the March hearing, saying his ``failure to appear may result in a decision adverse to his interests.″ Gonzalez has said that he would not travel to the United States to retrieve his son.
Bernard Perlmutter, director of the University of Miami’s Children and Youth Law Clinic, called the judge’s decision ``politically popular″ but legally incorrect. The INS has the power to return Elian at any time, he said, despite its statements that the agency will not.
The case has included several high-profile efforts by Congress and others to intervene. Vice President Al Gore has questioned whether the INS had the expertise to decide Elian’s fate.
Last week, Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., tried to delay Elian’s departure by issuing a subpoena that requires the boy to testify before a House committee Feb. 10.
Robert Edgar of the U.S. National Council of Churches, which sent representatives to visit Elian’s father in Cuba, criticized Burton’s action.
``Little Elian deserves to be reunited immediately with his biological father and closest family members in Cuba,″ Edgar said in a statement. ``The longer this whole process drags on, the more disconnected this small child becomes from those who have raised him and who love him.″