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CNN Today

INS Orders Meeting Between Elian Gonzalez and His Grandmothers

Aired January 25, 2000 - 2:31 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: As CNN's Susan Candiotti reported first from Miami just a few minutes ago, immigration officials now are ordering a meeting between Elian Gonzalez and his grandmothers who are in the United States from Cuba. The women, who are in the U.S. to press their case for Elian's return to Cuba, flew to Miami for a meeting yesterday, but the grandmothers and the boy's Miami relatives couldn't agree on a location. Now, again, the INS says there must be a meeting in a neutral location tomorrow or Elian's temporary guardianship with his Miami family could be jeopardized.

Following all of this from his post in Washington is our Justice Department correspondent Pierre Thomas.

And, Pierre, my first thought when I heard this was, with the INS's initial decision on returning Elian to his father in Cuba, which is being challenged in federal court, what if the Miami relatives just don't show up for this INS-ordered meeting?

PIERRE THOMAS, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Lou, I talked to two Justice sources just a few moments ago and they said if the family does not comply with this particular order, the Justice Department is prepared to go to court to force them to comply. So this matter is getting ratcheted up significantly. The Justice Department had been taking measured steps here in recent days trying to facilitate this meeting. Yesterday, when it didn't happen, the INS decided that it would begin to take action.

WATERS: When I was talking to Bob Franken just a few minutes ago, I was asking him who was quarterbacking all of this up in Washington, this trip of the grandmothers, and he said there were too many chiefs and not enough Indians. How did this INS order come to pass? Do you know that?

THOMAS: Again, yesterday, when it became clear that there would not be a meeting, Justice Department and INS officials began to meet, began to discuss what their options were. They looked at the federal code, and according to the letter, which we now have a copy of, the code allows the INS to place conditions on Elian Gonzalez's stay in the United States. They've placed this condition, that he -- that this meeting take place with his grandmothers, and that if this meeting does not take place, they will consider the family in violation of this particular order. Then that would allow them to go to court to seek -- in order to force them to make this meeting happen. WATERS: And the grandmothers' objections to meeting on the Miami relatives' home ground, is that a security issue? What is that all about?

THOMAS: The letter, Lou, does address that. The letter states that the grandmothers had some concerns about security; the letter said that this meeting, which would take place a short distance away from the home that Gonzalez is staying in, would not be -- too much of a problem for the family to get him to this neutral location. It would be a religious leader in Miami, an official at a local university in Miami-Dade County. And, again, the Justice Department is saying this is not an unreasonable request by the grandmothers, and they want the family to take care of it.

WATERS: And so this INS order for the Miami relatives to meet at a neutral location is now in the hands of attorneys for the Miami family? Is that...

THOMAS: That is correct. The information was sent to Elian Gonzalez's Miami relatives' attorneys. They have until 3:30 this afternoon to acknowledge receiving the letter and giving an indication whether they will comply with the order. If they do not comply -- acknowledge that they will comply by 3:30, the Justice Department will then weigh its options. And, again, my sources are telling me that the options include going to court to force them to make this meeting happen.

WATERS: Would there also be an option for the attorneys to say, we're going to challenge this order?

THOMAS: Well, clearly they could say, we're not going to comply, and I think the next step you would see would be a debate in court.

WATERS: All right, Pierre Thomas keeping watch on the INS order from his post in Washington.

I'm being told that the grandmothers themselves will be guests on CNN at 6:00 p.m. Eastern time this evening.

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