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Special Event

Sen. Mack Discusses Bill to Grant Citizenship to Elian Gonzalez; 'This Should Not be a Political Decision,' Say's Rep. Jackson-Lee

Aired January 24, 2000 - 1:28 p.m. ET


LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: The grandmothers of Elian Gonzalez are flying from New York to Miami, Florida today. That's one development. They're hoping for a reunion with the little Cuban boy when they arrive in Miami. This comes as the tug-of-war over Elian moves into the Congress. A Florida senator -- that would be Connie Mack, a Republican from Florida, is now speaking to reporters in the gallery of the United States Senate about his bill to make Elian a United States citizen.


SEN. CONNIE MACK (R), FLORIDA: ... That's what their interest is. The court's interest would be what's in the best interest of the little boy, and I think that's where it ought to be done.

And again -- so today I will be introducing that legislation to get that process under way. And with that why don't I just stop and respond to your questions.

QUESTION: Do you have any idea when the vote will come?

MACK: No. As I understand it, Bobbie (ph), that there's a likelihood that there will be an objection heard today. When I move for the bill to be read for the first time, that's no problem. But when I ask for the bill to be read the second time, it's my understanding there will be an objection.

Now what that really just means is it's a delay of one day. The bill would be read automatically for a second time tomorrow, which means that the legislation could come up on Wednesday.

But again, to take that a step further, we do have the bankruptcy legislation on the floor, and it's my understanding that we want to get that done and out of the way before we get back -- before I'll be able to, you know, get back on the bill.

QUESTION: So what does the time look like?

MACK: I really don't know beyond that.

QUESTION: Do you have any idea of how many votes you have for this? MACK: No, I don't. All I can tell you at this point is that we have not really -- you know, because we've been out of session -- really haven't made the effort to try to contact members. We have six members who are co-sponsoring the legislation: myself, Senator Lott, Senator Helms and Democrat Senator Graham, Senator Torricelli and Senator Robb. And so I -- you know, I'm just hopeful that we're going to have the necessary votes to do what we need to do.

QUESTION: I didn't hear earlier whether this was for citizenship or permanent residence.

MACK: No, citizenship.

QUESTION: OK. And what about the ones, then, that were introduced on the House side that would go for the permanent residency? How do you reconcile the two?

MACK: Well, as I understand it, there will be a bill offered on the House side for citizenship as well. The House will have to work its will. You know, we're proceeding with citizenship here.

QUESTION: Just to give you the chance to explain the facts on the Cuba -- this does not stop him from being returned to Cuba?

MACK: That's correct.

QUESTION: Can you explain it?

MACK: Yes, OK. I'm glad you ask it, because it allows me to kind of state where I am in all of this.

I mean, first of all, I have some pretty strong feelings about -- that I think that Elian ought to stay here in the United States. But I would stress that the legislation that I am proposing does not dictate an outcome. It says in essence that the decisions will be made by a court, and I think that is the right place for these decisions to be made.

So there is -- citizenship or permanent residency, for that matter, again does not dictate the outcome. That will be determined by a court, assuming that we're successful in what we do.

WATERS: There you have it. Senator Connie Mack, Republican of Florida, introducing a bill in the Senate making citizenship available under a unique bill called private relief legislation to Elian Gonzalez. That would not necessarily keep the youngster from being sent back to Cuba, as you heard the senator just say; it does not dictate an outcome. According to the senator's spokesman, who talked with us earlier, if the child is granted this citizenship his case would be removed from INS jurisdiction and would then become a court matter, and that's what it's about.

There may be some stiff opposition in the Congress about this. The ranking Democrat on the House Immigration Subcommittee says Congress has no place in custody battles. That would be ranking Democrat from Texas Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, who joins us now from Des Moines.

Did you hear what the senator had to say?

REP. SHEILA JACKSON-LEE (D), TEXAS: Lou, I absolutely did, and I think the conversation that we've just heard, the announcement that we've just heard, evidences that Congress really should limit its involvement in this very serious matter.

First of all, I believe that the INS and the attorney general's office has, in fact, made the right decision in the best interests of Elian, who is only six years old, to return him to his natural father. Now, I simply believe that we should not intervene in the bonding relationship between the father and son. I look forward to meeting with the grandmothers, tomorrow, and will remain open and interested in the efforts that are being made. But the very fact that bills are being filed in the House, there are efforts in the Senate to bypass the committee process, not having a full hearing, suggests that the congressional posture is the wrong form and the wrong position to take.

That child needs to be in a loving and nurturing atmosphere with his family. The INS and the A.G.'s office has determined that there is nothing wrong in terms of the father in terms of being a suitable parent. What more questions do we have? Now, I would be open to Elian having the opportunity once more matured to opt to be a United States citizen; that is something that certainly can be considered, but it is appropriate for him to be able to return to his family in Cuba. And I would certainly be responsive to the grandmothers, who have flown all the way here to ask and to plead for the United States to keep its promise to allow Elian to return to his homeland.

This should not be a political decision; it should be the right decision. The right decision is in the best interests of that child, that very young boy, that little boy who has been so traumatized, to go home to familiar settings. And I hope that all of us, those in Miami, those across the nation, those in the United States Congress, the judicial system, can rely upon the key element of this: What is in the best interest of Elian, not what is in the best interest of politics.

WATERS: All right, we have a Republican senator introducing this bill saying he thinks that Elian ought to stay. He says that's in Elian's best interest. You're saying Elian ought to go back with his father in Cuba, that's in the boy's best interest. Taking all of this politics out of it, isn't the court the very best place to settle all of this?

JACKSON-LEE: Well, Lou, as I said earlier, I would hope that Congress would not have entered into the process. Certainly, I believe, the courts is a forum -- are a forum that would be best appropriate, but I would like for, and I've asked for, ways to expedite the court proceedings so that we don't delay the indecision of what happens to Elian for any longer period of time. I think ultimately the most important thing is for Elian to be settled, settled somewhere with a loving, nurturing family, and I believe it's appropriate that he return back to Cuba. WATERS: All right, thanks for taking the time to spend...

JACKSON-LEE: Thank you.

WATERS: ... a little of it with us from Des Moines, Iowa. Texas Democrat Representative Sheila Jackson-Lee.

Senator Mack, Connie Mack of Florida, who's introducing the bill we heard from just a bit ago, is running late today. We hope to have him, though, one-on-one with us from the Senate gallery in the next hour of CNN TODAY. Stay tuned for that.


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