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Elian Gonzalez Case: Court Says No to Asylum Hearing; Miami Relatives Have 14 Days to File Appeal

Aired June 1, 2000 - 2:01 p.m. ET


NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, expected any minute now, to talk about today's federal appeals court ruling on Elian Gonzalez. The court denied a political asylum hearing for Elian. The ruling is considered a victory for Juan Miguel Gonzalez, the boy's father, who wants to take Elian back to Cuba. In making its ruling, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with an Immigration decision that only a parent should speak for the boy.

The court says the decision "was within the outside border of reasonable choices," and "the INS did not abuse its discretion or act arbitrarily in applying the policy and rejecting plaintiff's purported asylum application."

CNN's Kate Snow joins us from Washington, she's outside the office of Juan Miguel Gonzalez's attorney.

Kate, what's going on?

KATE SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Natalie, they've been inside this office for about two hours now. The family meeting with attorney Greg Craig. A friend of Juan Miguel Gonzalez tells me that this is a great victory for Juan Miguel Gonzalez, that he's said to be cautiously optimistic, very hopeful about this result. They've been meeting now for a couple of hours. We're also told that they will come out here at any moment and give some sort of statement, a public statement in reaction to the court's decision. I am told by a source close to the family that Juan Miguel Gonzalez himself may speak at this point. He has not spoken many times to the press here in the United States.

Now as for how long Juan Miguel Gonzalez will stay here in this country, the court's ruling today mandates that he stay under an order that already existed, from that court, that he stay for another 14 days at least; pending any kind of appeal from the Miami relatives. So clearly, he will remain in this country for at least that amount of time. He has said repeatedly, through his lawyer, that he planned to stay in this country for as long as it takes, for every chance of appeal to be exhausted.

In the meantime he's staying with his family now in another area of Washington, D.C., Northwest Washington, in a very nice neighborhood, they've been visiting places, they've been out on the town, in Baltimore at the aquarium the other day. So enjoying their time here, but we're told, very anxious to get back to Cuba.

Kate Snow, CNN, live, Washington.

ALLEN: Kate, Kate, we heard the family members in Miami, again today, express their desire, their ongoing desire to speak with Elian. Has there been any word of late of whether that could ever happen between these two families?

SNOW: There has not been any word on that, Natalie, and of course, the family has been here for a matter of weeks now, Elian has been here for a few weeks. and no meeting has taken place. There's been no kind of approach to the Miami relatives. So one would expect that it's not likely, but they haven't made any statement to that effect.

ALLEN: All right, Kate Snow, outside Juan Miguel Gonzalez's attorney's office.

Now to Andria.

ANDRIA HALL, CNN ANCHOR: As you can imagine, in Miami's Little Havana community, many Cuban immigrants are expressing disappointment in today's court's ruling.

And that's where we find CNN's Mark Potter, in Miami, he joins us from there with more reaction -- Mark.


In a news conference that ended here about 45 minutes ago, the Miami relatives of Elian Gonzalez and their attorneys expressed great disappointment with the court ruling and indicated that there will be an appeal.

Now while they were holding that news conference here at a restaurant in Coconut Grove near downtown Miami, a group of supporters gathered outside the Gonzalez home in Little Havana to hear the news that they too were very disappointed by. Attorney Kendall Coffey said that the legal team still needs to study this 33-page ruling from the circuit -- from the appeals court in Atlanta, before deciding how and where to file their appeal. But he did indicate that there were enough legal issues here -- legal conflicts here to take this case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, Marisleysis Gonzalez, Elian's cousin, demanded that she and the other Miami relatives be allowed to see Elian in Washington. Something that she and the relatives have been denied since Elian was returned to his father in April.


MARISLEYSIS GONZALEZ, ELIAN'S COUSIN: I still stand here with faith, faith in my attorneys and above all, faith in the man that let Elian get to this country safe and sound, which is God. I will keep my faith and I think the battle is not over with yet. He's still here, he's still in this great country. And I hope that the laws of this country favor him and gives him the opportunity that we've always asked for, for him to seek asylum or to let this go to a family court.


POTTER: Now attorney Kendall Coffey says if the family is kept from seeing Elian, the lawyers will go to court to try to force a meeting between him and the Miami relatives. He also argued that the court in its ruling did not endorse the INS decision to deny Elian Gonzalez an asylum hearing, simply saying that the court ruled that the INS had acted within its broad discretion.


KENDALL COFFEY, MIAMI RELATIVES' ATTORNEY: We're obviously disappointed by the appellate outcome, but at the same time, I have to tell you how appreciative we are to the appeals court for the way they have handled this matter; allowed us full opportunity to present our arguments. And while we may disagree with the outcome here, I can tell you it feels mighty good to be in the court system of this country rather than dealing with whatever they call justice 90 miles from our shores.


POTTER: Now at the end of the news conference the Miami relatives asked the Miami community, despite this ruling, to remain calm and to allow the legal procedures to play themselves out.

Andria, back to you.

HALL: Mark Potter, reporting live from Miami, thank you, Mark.

ALLEN: Elian's Miami relatives have asked Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy for emergency help in the case. They want to make sure the boy will not be allowed to leave the country while they are appealing today's decision.

Legal analyst Greta Van Susteren joins us with more on the legal aspects of this ruling.

And Greta, again, let's talk about what are the hopes of this family in Miami, on appeal at this stage of the game?

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: The best thing the Miami family can hope for is that there are other United States Courts of Appeals that have looked at facts similar to Elian. You can't get them exactly, but similar, and that they have reached a different conclusion than what the 11th Circuit did here in Atlanta. Because the Supreme Court entertains a very limited number of cases and one of the cases it will look at is when there's a conflict between its appellate courts; then it will entertain the case. Otherwise, they're in a very tough position, this was a 3-0 decision, and it has to do with what we call "abuse of discretion"; which means that the United States Court of Appeals could disagree with the trial court, but as long as they thought the trial court acted reasonably, didn't do something completely outlandish, it must by law, affirm the decision.

ALLEN: Now what about in the meantime, Elian's whereabouts, he has to stay here in the U.S., at least for the next two weeks?

VAN SUSTEREN: I understand that Greg Craig, his lawyer, said that he will remain in the United States, the lawyer for the father, but the way that the April 19 injunction read, it says that he must stay pending appeal. So the question is: When does the appeal end, when does it stop pending. And what happens in the United States Court of Appeals is that they give both sides a chance to file something, the 14 days in this instance. After the 14 days goes by, if nothing is filed, whether it's here in this court or in the United States Supreme Court, they would do what's called "issue the mandate." They will send the case back down to the trial court, that's just a procedural thing and I think at that time the appeal ends. And at that time the injunction dissolves and the father is free to take son home.

ALLEN: So whenever that is.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, yes, you know, and frankly, you know, after -- sometimes you have the 14 days pass and the clerks don't get around to sending the mandate down, so it might even happen many days after that.

ALLEN: Quick, what if -- question -- what if his father said: I can't take this anymore, and decides to leave.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, I suppose what would happen technically is the family in Miami would go to United States Court of Appeals and seek to have the father, anyone who assisted, held in contempt of the United States Court of Appeals, for violating the injunction. But first, the United States Court of Appeals would have to say: Look, the appeal is still pending, the injunction is still in effect, you've violated it, you helped violate it. So whoever was part of this is in contempt of the United States Court of Appeals.

ALLEN: All right, well, we'll keep watching it and keep paying attention to you explaining to us. Greta Van Susteren, thanks Greta.



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