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CNN Today

Elian Gonzalez Case: Miami Relatives Seek Supreme Court Help After Asylum Claim Rejected; Boy Must Remain in U.S. Pending Further Appeals

Aired June 1, 2000 - 1:31 p.m. ET

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

ANDRIA HALL, CNN ANCHOR: This hours top story is the decision by the Miami relatives of Elian Gonzalez to appeal the appeal they lost this morning in Atlanta.

As you've heard, a three-judge panel sided with the Clinton administration, saying Immigration officials aren't required to give Elian an asylum hearing. But before the ink had dried on that decision, Elian's Miami caregivers filed an emergency application with Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, pending a formal appeal to the full court within 10 days.

The Atlanta court ordered Elian and his father, seen here this week visiting Baltimore, to stay in the U.S. for at least 14 days. But if the Supreme Court agrees to hear the case, that could stretch into many more months.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: The Florida side of the fractured Gonzalez family now has lost every court fight it has taken on, but it vows to keep fighting.

CNN's Mark Potter joins us from Miami -- Mark.

MARK POTTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Natalie, just about 10 minutes ago, Lazaro Gonzalez and Marisleysis Gonzalez, Elian's Miami relatives, and their team of lawyers, concluded a news conference. You can still see them behind me. They said that they are very disappointed with the court's ruling, although the lead attorney in the case, Kendall Coffey, praised the court for its handling of this matter.

He indicated that it is likely that the lawyers will appeal the decision by the three-court panel, although he said the lawyers are just now beginning to study that 33-page ruling and they have not yet decided what they will do, whether they will go to the full panel of the appeals court or whether they will take this case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. That decision will be made within the two- week period that they have been given by the appeals court. And in that period, he noted that Elian Gonzalez cannot be removed from this country per a ruling from the judges. And he, Kendall Coffey, said that is an adequate period of time for what he needs to do to decide what to do next in terms of an appeal.

He went on to say that this was not a great day for the INS even though the court ruled in the governments's favor.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KENDALL COFFEY, ATTY. FOR ELIAN'S MIAMI RELATIVES: I think its fair to say that this decision does not constitute a resounding endorsement about the way the INS has handled this matter. To the contrary, in the final paragraph of the case, they point out very specifically that this is a matter of deferring to political will, and that the decision the INS made was within the outside border of reasonable choices.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

POTTER: Now, attorney Kendall Coffey says that he will ask that the Miami relatives, a clergyman and a doctor from Miami be allowed to see Elian. So for, that request has been refused. He said they will ask again. And if the request is refused once more, he will take the matter to court. He's expressed himself very angrily, saying it is time for the Miami relatives to be able to see this little boy. Elian's cousin, Marisleysis Gonzalez, underscored that point, saying that she really wants to see the boy that she cared for for five months, and said that it is unconscionable that she has not been allowed to do so.

Final point: The family is asking the community to remain calm and to allow the law to take its course.

Mark Potter, CNN, reporting live from Miami.

ALLEN: We're going to talk more now about that law. CNN legal analyst Greta Van Susteren joins us. She's got the ruling here and her yellow highlighter.

So, Greta, any reason for this family not to continue now and to appeal? And if they did appeal, would they have any hope?

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you know, lawyers don't give up very easily. So even though it doesn't look very hopeful for the family in Miami, I doubt that they're necessarily going to give up. When you get a decision like this, it's really sort of a kick in the teeth because this was 3-0, and that's a big sign to the family in Miami that it's not likely they're going to win if they go to the entire court of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the circuit, or if they go on to the Supreme Court. You can't say for sure what the United States Supreme Court would do, but when you get 3-0 against you and the issue is one of whether or not the INS acted reasonably -- it isn't a question of whether or not they agree with them, but whether it was reasonable -- very tough to get that reversed.

ALLEN: And the attorney pointed out that the court said that the INS was acting on the outside boundaries of reasonable choice, and he made it seems like that was a hopeful sign.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, you know, lawyers always like to find some win even in a loss. Look, they lost fair and square on this, but what the wording actually says, it says: "The policy decision that the INS made was within the outside border of reasonable choices." They were simply saying, we're not here to disagree whether or not the INS should have or shouldn't have, the question is whether or not they were reasonable. And if they were inside that border, it was reasonable.

Even though this court may have reached a different conclusion than the INS -- we don't know for sure -- that's not the issue. It's whether or not it was such a wild decision by the INS that the United States Court of Appeals needs to reverse it. They say it's within that reasonable border. So for that very reason, they affirmed the trial court judge.

ALLEN: And how would their attorney make the decision of what step to take next, either go back to the circuit court of appeals or go directly to the Supreme Court?

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, I mean, if there's a conflict in circuits -- let's say that the 11th Circuit holds that facts like this is reasonable and that there's another United States Court of Appeals circuit in a case that's similar reaches a different conclusion, that's their best chance of getting the United States Court of Appeals to consider. Because when there's a conflict in courts of appeals, a conflict in circuits, then the United States Supreme Court will step in and try to resolve that conflict.

But I got to tell you is that, you know, right now, the family in Miami has got a tough road ahead if they ever think they're going to get this decision reversed, simply because the issue is whether it's abuse of discretion, whether they acted reasonably; not whether they agreed, but whether they acted reasonably. Very tough to get that kind of decision reversed.

ALLEN: And is there any big picture conclusion that's drawn from this handing down today? Their attorney also said this case affects every alien on U.S. soil that's seeking asylum.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, that's not quite true. I mean, we lawyers sometimes speak in broad terms, especially when we lose. We don't like to lose, so of course we want to send out the threat to everybody out there that you better look out, you know, because this could affect you.

Look, this is, at least for the moment, a decision that affects only Elian Gonzalez. It might have some precedent if some other child gets rescued at sea and something similar. But this is about Elian Gonzalez and really about no one else.

ALLEN: OK, Greta Van Susteren, thanks, as always.

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