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CNN Today

Justice Department Rebuffs Florida State Court in Elian Gonzalez Case

Aired January 12, 2000 - 2:07 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: The Justice Department today told a Florida state court judge to stay out of the Elian Gonzalez case. The attorney general, Janet Reno, says the decision to send the boy home to Cuba is a federal not a state matter.

CNN's Mark Potter is covering the story in Miami.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARK POTTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The attorney general's letter reiterates the original INS position that the only person who can speak for Elian Gonzalez in immigration matters is his father in Cuba. It also went on to say state courts have no jurisdiction in this case.

The letter said the original date of Friday, January 14 set by the INS for the boy's return to Cuba will likely be extended now to accommodate federal court hearings. Lawyers for the family in Miami, who poured over copies of the letter faxed from Washington, say they will, indeed, file a claim in Miami Federal Court arguing that Elian be allowed to stay in the country.

Attorney Jose Garcia-Pedrosa says, at this stage, the family has no intention of returning Elian to Cuba.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSE GARCIA-PEDROSA, GONZALEZ FAMILY ATTORNEY: ... by the Congress, is under a court order in a state court, which is a valid order saying he's not to be removed. If the attorney general wants to challenge that order, she should come here and do so. That's the legal way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

POTTER: Meanwhile, Cuban exile political activists say their civil disobedience campaign against the INS, which was suspended over the weekend, will remain on hold as long as court action is under way.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RAMON SAUL SANCHEZ, CUBAN EXILE ACTIVIST: We want to use civil disobedience only, only as a last recourse in this situation so that we don't inconvenience anybody. But we are prepared to utilize immediately if we need to.

POTTER: In her letter, Attorney General Reno said, "once again, it is my strong hope that we can work together to resolve this child's status as soon as possible."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

POTTER: Well, working together to resolve this child's status as soon as possible seems unlikely, though. The attorneys for the family here in Miami say, early next week, they will file a federal lawsuit to argue their claim that the U.S. government has denied Elian his legal and constitutional rights -- Lou.

WATERS: Mark, we've been reporting for weeks now about the high emotion, high passion in Miami's Havana community over this case, and now we understand there's some local bubbling-up over something Elian Gonzalez supposedly said to a playmate. Can you put that one into context for us?

POTTER: Yes, context is definitely needed. Yesterday, with other children around, Elian, playing in this yard behind me, said something -- a plane flew over and he made a comment about going back to Cuba. Some people have seized on that to say the boy wants to go back to Cuba. We've heard people say that, we've heard the boy say he wants to stay here in Miami. I think there are a lot of serious adults here who don't put much credence in what this boy has said or what he has reportedly said. It's a very emotional issue and I think there are a lot of people here who think that we ought to be very careful about all this -- Lou.

WATERS: All right, Mark Potter in Miami, we'll be back to you.

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