MIAMI (AP) _ A federal appeals court issued a temporary stay today that keeps Elian Gonzalez in the United States while the government and his relatives fight over whether he will be returned to his father and sent home to Cuba.

The order came barely an hour after the passing of a government deadline for the boy's Miami relatives to hand him over.

Deputy Court Clerk Chris Basnett said the stay was issued shortly after 3 p.m. EDT. It was not immediately clear how long the stay would be in effect.

The Justice Department, however, said it had agreed to wait to reclaim the boy until the court could review the emergency petition filed by Elian's great-uncle Lazaro Gonzalez. The government had said through most of today that it would act to take custody of the boy after its 2 p.m. deadline passed _ a deadline the Miami relatives ignored.

``The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has asked the Department of Justice to forestall any enforcement action in the matter of Elian Gonzalez pending their review of a motion for a temporary injunction by attorneys for Lazaro Gonzalez,'' the agency said in a statement. ``The Department of Justice has agreed to do so.''