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Special Event

Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder Addresses Arrival of Juan Miguel Gonzalez in the U.S. from Cuba

Aired April 6, 2000 - 9:40 a.m. ET

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

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: And we go live now to the Justice Department. He is Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

ERIC HOLDER, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: ... arrived here in the United States. He came with his wife and he came with his infant son.

Their arrival is a welcome development in a case that has captured everyone's attention ever since young Elian arrived at our shores. Now, at the core of this case is a little boy so young that he does not have the capacity to make legal decisions for himself. He has a father who has clearly enjoyed a close and continuous relationship with Elian from the moment he was born. And he also has relatives in Miami who undoubtedly care deeply for the same little boy.

There have been some who have claimed that the government has acted in a heavy-handed manner. I reject this notion.

In January, the INS decided, and we agreed, that only Juan Miguel has the authority to speak on his son's behalf regarding immigration matters. Mr. Gonzalez has clearly and sincerely stated that he wants to be reunited with his son.

In an effort to be fair, and most importantly, to consider young Elian's well-being, we did not immediately implement our decision, even though we had the authority to do so. Instead we urged the Miami relatives to work out a cooperate arrangement to reunite Elian in a manner that was least disruptive to everyone involved. Since then a federal court has upheld our decision.

Then, demonstrating further restraint, we offered the Miami relatives an opportunity to appeal the court's ruling so long as they did not ensure further open-ended delays. Today we are as committed as ever to reuniting the two in a manner that is most sensitive to Elian's well-being.

This morning we will continue discussing these issues with the lawyers for the relatives in Miami. We strongly believe that Juan Miguel Gonzalez's presence here will move the process forward and will allow the parties to quickly effectuate a transfer of Elian to his father. I have a 6-year old daughter and, as a father, I cannot imagine the anguish of being separated from my daughter due to circumstances beyond my control. That is one reason that I believe reuniting Elian with his father is not only a matter of federal law -- it is not a matter of immigration law -- it is simply the right thing to do. A father and his son need to be together. And in the coming days we will do all that we can to ensure that that happens.

Thank you.

QUESTION: In retrospect, do you wish that you had moved more quickly and not let this bog down into seemingly endless negotiations with these relatives?

HOLDER: One can always look back in hindsight and see that there are things that you might have done differently, but I think that we have exercised the authority that we clearly have in a sensitive manner. And our hope is that we will now be able to, with the father's presence here in the United states, get father and son reunited.

QUESTION: Eric, will INS revoke Elian's parole to the Miami relatives, now that his father is in this country.

HOLDER: We will be talking to them today to try to work out the way in which the custody and care of Elian can occur. We expect that this will happen in a relatively short period of time.

QUESTION: Do you expect that the revocation of the parole will happen in a relatively short period of time?

HOLDER: I'm not sure I want to get into the details as to exactly how this will occur. There are technical things that will have to be done in order to make that happen. But I think the bottom line is we want to get father and son physically reunited as fast as we can.

QUESTION: Has the father made a commitment to stay in this country through the appeals process?

HOLDER: Well, you'll have to talk to Mr. Craig to get that specifically, but all that I have heard -- from Mr. Craig in his statement last night, from the father today at the airport -- would seem to indicate to me that he is planning to stay here as long as is necessary.

QUESTION: Is there anything that would specifically keep him here? Couldn't he just, if he gets the boy tomorrow, couldn't he just leave? Is there anything in the law, or any kind of deal being worked out in writing, where he would stay?

HOLDER: There is, as I said, nothing in writing. But as I indicated also, everything that I've heard from that side indicates that he plans to be here to let the process work itself it out, and at that point, will be reunited with his son and then make that decision. QUESTION: Has the department told him that they think it would be a good idea if he stay, or stated its wishes to him on that subject in any way?

HOLDER: Well, we have been pretty consistent that we think the presence of the father in the United States will help move this process along. And I expect that we will see the results of his presence here in a relatively short period of time.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, in terms of whether you hope he would stay for the pendency of the appeal.

HOLDER: Do we hope he will?

QUESTION: Have you talked to him about your wishes on what he does in that regard?

HOLDER: There certainly have been discussions between lawyers from the Justice Department, there have been people in the deputy attorney general's office who have taken the lead in talking to Mr. Craig, and we have expressed that desire.

QUESTION: Do you plan to meet Juan Miguel Gonzalez?

HOLDER: I'm sorry?

QUESTION: Do you plan meet Juan Miguel Gonzalez?

HOLDER: We expect that Mr. Gonzalez will be meeting with officials here at the Justice Department with the attorney general shortly, perhaps as early as today.

QUESTION: Do you expect that it's possible or might be helpful if Mr. Gonzalez went to Miami? Or do you think it is necessary that he go to Florida?

HOLDER: Well, that's one of the things we want to talk with the Miami relatives about, to figure out a way in which we can reunited father and son in a way that's least disruptive to Elian. I think that's what we have to keep most in mind.

There's a little boy who has been separated from his father for over four months now. We want to bring them together in a way that will do the least harm to him and do it as quickly as we possibly can.

QUESTION: What would be the purpose of the father coming to meet with Justice Department officials today?

HOLDER: Well, we certainly want to hear from him and get from him the concerns that he might have. His lawyers, obviously, will be with him, speak to them as well. Our negotiators are continuing to talk with the lawyers from the Miami relatives, and that will help inform us as we continue those conversations.

QUESTION: What's the practical or legal significance of the Cuban's waiving diplomatic immunity in their facility here? HOLDER: I'm not certain.

QUESTION: Mr. Holder, the man that rescued Elian has been -- has witnessed that Elian has told him that there is no way he wants to go back to Cuba, not that he wouldn't go back. But would that not have some weight in this matter, Elian's own personal preference? Or is that something you'll have to take up with his father?

HOLDER: Well, he is six years old. As I indicated, I have a 6- year-old daughter. Three days ago, she informed me that she was going to run away from home. She was not happy with a disciplinary decision that I made. I'm not even certain I remember what it is; I suspect that she doesn't remember what it was.

What is most important is the reuniting of this father and of the son. He is six years old. He does not have the legal capacity to make those kinds of decisions. And, beyond that, I don't think that he is old enough to make those kinds of decisions. We will all want to work in his best interest, and it seems clear to me that the best interest of this child will be served by reuniting him with his surviving parent.

KAGAN: We've been listening to Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder, on this, the day when Juan Miguel Gonzalez arrived here in the U.S. from Cuba. Mr. Holder speaking both as a deputy attorney general, also as he interjected some personal comments as the father of a 6-year-old himself.

He says, once again, the government backed up its position that 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez belongs in the custody of his father, and that the government believes that it was only the father who has the legal authority to speak for Elian.

He said that talks continue with the Miami relatives as to the procedure as to how Elian will be transferred to his father. He didn't give a hint that anything has been resolved in that matter. But he believed the presence of Juan Miguel Gonzalez in the U.S. will help rush those matters along.

Let's bring in our Roger Cossack, who was listening along as well.

Roger. Eric Holder made it sound cut and dry. This is an INS matter, immigration matter, the decided, the attorney general decided, and the federal courts held it up: Elian Gonzalez belongs with his father.

ROGER COSSACK, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: That is right, and I think the tip here is when Eric Holder said, and in the coming few days that they look to reunite young Elian with his father. I that that tells all that they have come to the point now, where they expect, where the deal was, you come to this country, and we will return your son to you.

We can only hope that when it comes time that the people in Miami will give up this child, and turn him over to his father without any problems, because I think the worst thing of all would be the imagination, or trying to imagine how horrible it would be if U.S. marshals had to go in there and physically pick up the child.

KAGAN: Roger, to follow up on a quick point that you made earlier. You were saying that the family in Miami does not have a good case to get this taken in to state courts, why not?

COSSACK: Because immigration is a national issue, it is a federal issue. The United States of American sets its own immigration policy for the country. States cannot set their own immigration policy, and this is an immigration issue. And that is why this is not in Florida state courts. This is why it is before the Immigration & Naturalization Service, a federal agency.

Custody, like we think of in terms of divorce, that's a state issue. This is an immigration issue, and that is why this stays before the INS.

KAGAN: Roger, thank you. Roger Cossack, once again, in Washington.

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