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Cuban boy found off Florida coast

Case comes on third anniversary of Elian Gonzalez sea rescue

From Mark Potter

The Coast Guard escorted to shore the Cuban boy found hiding in the boat.

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KEY WEST, Florida (CNN) -- Three years to the day after Elian Gonzalez was found clinging to an inner tube off the Florida coast, the U.S. Coast Guard found a 14-year-old Cuban boy hiding on a boat Monday, raising thorny legal issues reminiscent of the earlier case.

After getting a report of a boat in trouble in bad weather about 25 miles off Key West, the Coast Guard made contact with two men on the boat, both U.S. residents, and escorted it to shore. When Coast Guard officers boarded the vessel at the dock, they saw six Cubans -- five adults and a boy -- in the hold of the vessel.

While the five adults, including a man believed to be the boy's father, fled and made it ashore, the boy did not make it off the ship. The distinction is important because of the "wet foot/dry foot" policy, which gives automatic refugee status to Cubans who manage to make landfall in the United States.

Unsure of how to proceed, officers kept the boy on a Coast Guard boat overnight. But Tuesday, a law enforcement official said that a decision was made "at the highest levels" to bring the boy ashore as a "material witness" in a possible smuggling case against the two men piloting the boat. The boy is in the custody of the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

The two men and five Cuban adults who made it to shore were detained and turned over to the Border Patrol, a law enforcement official said. But under the migration policy for Cubans, the adults will be allowed to stay, even if they were smuggled into the country.

A law enforcement official said the two U.S. residents have been arrested and charged with smuggling the others into the United States. They will have a hearing at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday before a federal magistrate.

A law enforcement official said that the boy's mother is believed to be in Cuba.

On November 25, 1999, 5-year-old Elian Gonzalez was found off the coast of Fort Lauderdale, the only survivor of a group of 13 Cuban migrants trying to make it to the United States.

His mother was among the dead. His father, back in Cuba, demanded his return, touching off an international custody battle between the father and Elian's relatives in Miami.

Eventually, then-Attorney General Janet Reno decided to send the boy back to the Communist-ruled island, touching off anger in Miami's large Cuban-American community.

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