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Reno Orders Reunion of Elian and His Father

Immigration: Hand-over of 6-year-old Cuban boy found adrift at sea could come early next week.

April 08, 2000|RICHARD A. SERRANO and MIKE CLARY | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — Atty. Gen. Janet Reno on Friday ordered that the Miami family holding Elian Gonzalez turn him over to his father, perhaps as early as next week, setting up what could be the final act of a four-month saga that began when the 6-year-old Cuban boy was rescued from an inner tube off the coast of Florida.

Urging a peaceful transfer of the child after meeting Friday morning with Juan Miguel Gonzalez, his father, Reno left it up to Elian's relatives to turn the child over at a time and place to be determined. She said that three mental health experts will advise the Miami family when and how that can best be accomplished.

Family members did not say whether they will obey or ignore Reno's order, although in the past they have said that they will abide by the law. One of their attorneys, however, was sharply critical of any meeting with the two psychiatrists and one psychologist, calling it a waste of time.

"Apparently, from what she [Reno] said, these psychiatrists, these psychologists, have already made up their minds" that Elian should be given over to his father, complained family attorney Manny Diaz.

Lawyers for the relatives said that they plan to file additional legal briefs on their request for an asylum hearing for Elian with the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. A hearing is scheduled there May 11. They also said that they have faxed a legal brief to a Dade County judge seeking a hearing in family court in Miami on custody issues, even though Reno has said that the state court has no jurisdiction.

"Elian has not had his day in court," Diaz insisted. "There has been no determination of what is in his best interests."

Reno urged calm in Miami and stressed that the Gonzalez relatives there should keep Elian's safekeeping in mind.

"One of the wonderful things they could do would be to set an example for everybody as to what happens when you get into difficult situations which are very heartbreaking and sad," she said.

"You can still summon the strength to abide by the law and to move forward."

Juan Miguel Gonzalez in the past has spoken bitterly about how his Miami kin have treated his son after the boy was rescued in November. He has accused them of parading the boy in front of the news media and interfering with telephone conversations between him and his son.

After meeting with Reno, he said that he is convinced the boy will soon be in his custody again.

"The United States has assured me that it's going to be that way. And I am sure that it's going to be that way. And I am going to have my child soon," he said.

"They gave me all their support in resolving this as soon as possible. They have assured me, the state and the government has assured me that this will be done."

Reno said that the Miami relatives will be advised in a formal letter by the middle of next week on how and where to relinquish the boy.

Father Reluctant to Travel to Miami

Elian's father is reluctant to travel to Miami, where hundreds of public protesters have argued against Elian being returned to Cuba. His Miami relatives, on the other hand, do not want federal officials coming to their home to retrieve the boy.

One of the relatives' greatest concerns is that the father will immediately return to Cuba with Elian, ending any hope of a life in the United States for the boy.

Compounding their worries was Reno's acknowledgment that the father has expressed no desire to stay in the United States once he has custody of his son.

"He said people here believe that he wanted to come to the United States to live," Reno said after their meeting. "He said: 'My feelings are exactly the opposite.' "

She added: "At this present moment, there is nothing to stop him from returning to Cuba. . . . There is nothing to prevent him from going."

However, Reno did say that she hopes he will remain with Elian in the United States at least until the May 11 hearing in Atlanta.

"It is time for this little boy, who has been through so much, to be with his father," Reno said.

"The law is very clear: A child who has lost his mother belongs with the sole surviving parent, especially with one who has shared such a close and continuous relationship with his son."

To emphasize that the transfer was a legal order, the attorney general added: "The government is going to be the one that decides how it is done. The issue is not whether it's going to be done but how it is going to be done."

She said that the Miami relatives would receive two letters.

The first will ask them to meet Monday with two psychiatrists and a psychologist to map out the transfer "with as little disruption for Elian as possible."

She said that the three experts already had advised her office that the best way to accomplish a smooth transfer is to reunite the father and son "promptly."

After that meeting, a second letter will go to the relatives specifying a time and place for them to give Elian back to his father.

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