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Federal Judge Rules Attorney General Has Authority in Elian Gonzalez Asylum Matter

Aired March 21, 2000 - 1:03 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: Today, a federal judge in Miami, as you may have heard, issued an important ruling in the Elian Gonzalez case. In what's widely considered a major setback for the Cuban boy's Florida relatives, the judge ruled that the question of granting asylum is strictly up to the attorney general of the United States, Janet Reno, who is now speaking live with reporters at the Justice Department. She has just said that the judge's -- Judge Moore's decision has reaffirmed her department's decision that only the father is responsible for making choices in the care and feeding of Elian Gonzalez.

Let's listen to what the attorney general has to say to reporters who now are asking her questions:

All right, we're having some audio problems, apparently, so let's go down to Miami where CNN's Susan Candiotti has been closely following the Gonzalez story.

Flesh it out for us, Susan.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: All right, Lou. Well, first of all, we can tell you it is a day of subdued celebration on the part of the Justice Department because, privately, sources tell us they were very concerned about which way the judge would rule in this case given the tenor of his questions at a March 9 hearing in which both sides made their cases. Judge Michael Moore, in 50-page order, has put out a ruling favoring the U.S. government attempts to return Elian Gonzalez to his father in Cuba. He has thrown out a lawsuit filed by relatives of the boy living in Florida that want him to stay here. They wanted the boy to have the right to file a political asylum claim.

However, Judge Moore has ruled that U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, indeed, was within her discretionary power granted her by statute and by the U.S. Congress in immigration matters to decide in this case that the father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, in Cuba can speak on behalf of his son; and given the fact that his father did not want his son to file a political asylum claim, that the boy should be reunited with father.

Now, attorneys representing the boy's Florida relatives are trying to put a positive spin on all of this. They say that they are happy that the judge ruled in their, that the judge had jurisdiction to hear the case and that they had a right to sue. And they don't intend, they say, to give up their fight.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SPENCER EIG, GONZALEZ FAMILY ATTORNEY: The legal case of protecting the rights of Elian Gonzalez has been a long and up and down process, and today there are more ups than downs. We look forward to making this a completely positive situation in the near future, and we, for the very first time, have a recognition that we have a place here in federal court where we can come to have our case heard.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CANDIOTTI: In this order, Judge Moore also said that he hopes that everyone, both sides in this case, keep in mind the best interests of this child. As he put it, even this well-intended litigation can bring about unintended harm.

Susan Candiotti, CNN, reporting live in Miami.

WATERS: And just two minutes ago, as we reported, Attorney General Janet Reno reacted to Judge Moore's ruling in Miami.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JANET RENO, ATTORNEY GENERAL: ... made by a group of young African Americans who checked into the Adam's Mark in Daytona Beach, our position that only Elian's father can speak for his son on federal immigration matters. The court also recognized the importance of family reunification and protecting the bond between the son and his sole-surviving parent. This is a country where the rule of law is respected and upheld. A federal court has considered this case and it has sustained our decision -- a decision which was based on the facts and the law.

It has been four months since Elian was separated from his father and lost his mother. It is time for this little boy, who has been through so very much, to move on with life at his father's side.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WATERS: Janet Reno just a couple of moments ago. There was no immediate reaction to the court ruling in Miami on this decision by the Cuban government. A spokesman says Havana is reviewing the ruling.

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