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Atty. for Elian Gonzalez's Miami Relatives Holds News Briefing on Court Ruling Against Asylum Hearing for Boy

Aired June 1, 2000 - 12:37 p.m. ET

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

ROGER COSSACK, CNN ANCHOR: The Miami family is holding a news conference now. We take you there immediately.

KENDALL COFFEY, ATTY. FOR ELIAN'S MIAMI RELATIVES: Good afternoon.

In a case that has been defined by miracles as well as heartbreaks, this is a very painful moment. 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.

To talk a little bit specifically about the opinion and what it means is going to take perhaps a few days to absorb, but I'd like to talk about a few preliminary observations, give you a sense of where I think the case stands right now and what we might be looking toward, and at the same time give some others a chance to talk to you.

I think it's 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.

They also take very square exception with a notion that's been put out by the administration that in their decision to deny this child any sort of hearing, any sort of day in court, that that was not an INS decision that was required by the law.

To the contrary, they made it clear that that was a political decision that the INS made within its discretion. And they couldn't have been more specific in stating that the premise that the INS or the administration is, quote, "following the law" is wrong. Indeed, they say: "It has been suggested that the precise policy was required by law. That characterization of the case is inaccurate." And what they go on to say, bottom line to the decision, page 15, is that choice was the sole prerogative of the executive branch. So I want to make it clear about what this opinion says and what it does not say. It says that there's a whole lot of room that the INS has to make decisions but this was not the necessary outcome, there could have been other outcomes, that this was a decision, a call, that the executive branch made, and it was within the outside border, outside border of reasonable choices.

There are some other things in this opinion that are also important. I don't want to tell you what a privilege it's been to represent this man and his family. And I also want to tell you that the court itself said that this child has been ably represented. Those are the court's words, ably represented by Lazaro Gonzalez. And this family, I have never been prouder of clients and people I have worked with in my life, deserve recognition by this entire community and nation of the selfless, courageous, inspiring battle that they have made on behalf of this child. And in saying that Lazaro Gonzalez ably represented Elian, they rejected, as they have, the request of Juan Miguel Gonzalez that he replace Lazaro as the child's representative in this litigation. And that has significance in a lot of ways that we will continue to talk about and absorb in the next few days.

One of the important things is, with the declaration that Juan Gonzalez's move right after the raid, predictably right after the raid, to replace Lazaro so he could take control of the case, and obviously drop it, we now know that Lazaro is the able representative of this child who has been validated in that capacity.

And so, we demand that the INS and that the father's attorney open the doors that have been shut to this child's U.S. family, to his clergy, to medical representatives. This family and Lazaro have been validated as the proper adult representatives. It is high time that their attempts to hide the child from U.S. family, from U.S. clergy, surround him with communist government officials, and put a blue bandanna and a communist youth pioneer uniform on this child, that has gone on too long. And we do intend to, over the next few days, pursue steps to assure access by U.S. relatives and U.S. clergy is no longer denied.

A few other points that I will address quickly, and then I would like others to have a chance to speak to you as well. Just so you know, they emphasize in this opinion that there could indeed be a valid asylum claim. There's been a lot said about whether a 6-year- old child could have a valid asylum claim. They say that it could reasonably be found that he does. It could reasonably be said that he faces persecution in Cuba, but that the decision to effectively disallow his application was within the broad discretion of the executive agency.

There are a lot of points in this opinion that I want you to read through because you are going to agree that this is not stand up and applause day for the INS; that this an occasion where the courts state, as a matter of the separation of powers, that there is such a broad discretion within the executive branch, within the administration itself, that they simply cannot overrule on the basis of this record, those decisions made by the INS. Now, where the opinion stands today, and the case stands today, is that there is a 14-day period allowed for any motions that we might file seeking rehearing either before the same three-judge panel or before the entire appeals court. During that 14-day period, the injunction will remain in effect. And the court is very specific that the injunction against removing Elian from this country will continue until the mandate is issued, and what that means in every day terms is until either the 14-day expires, or if we seek rehearing until that rehearing motion is resolved.

We have made no decision at this time as to whether to seek rehearing. We have made no decision at this time as to what further relief we might seek from the United States Supreme Court. But I want to emphasize something, although this case is about Elian, and about a family, indeed about this community that we live in and that we love, a community that has been itself attacked and challenged by virtue of this case, this is also a case, though, that affects refugee children around the country, and indeed around the world.

This is also a case that will affect the constitutional rights of every alien on U.S. soil who seeks asylum. This court, the Atlanta court, has previously, for over 15 years. taken the position that aliens who seek asylum on U.S. soil do not have a constitutional right; other courts disagree, courts in New York, 5th Circuit in New Orleans.

And because of the profound disagreement on such an important point that affects literally hundreds of thousands of people every year, we will indeed be giving serious consideration as to whether this matter should be presented to the only court that can decide a difference of opinion, a conflict, between the federal appeals court and that is the Supreme Court of the United States.

I again want to reiterate the honor it has been to work with this family, and the brilliant legal team that I've had a privilege of serving on. This court, the federal appeals court, the district court before it have been very fair, and I'm very proud to be in this country. I'm very proud to be part of a legal system that has at least given us our chance, and I still believe that that legal system may yet allow this child, at long last, to have a day in court before he is relegated to a totalitarian regime, where there are no rights of any kind and there is nothing like the legal system that we cherish in this country.

I want to step...

QUESTION: What did you ask Justice Kennedy to do today...

COFFEY: I will available to answer questions, but what I would like to do is to allow others to have their say, and then I will step back up.

COSSACK: That was Kendall Coffey, one of the attorneys for the Miami family, indicating his view of what the decision from the 11th Circuit Court today. He initially indicated that he felt that the court, while ruling against him, did find that this was on the outside parameters of what the INS could do. He further indicated that they had not yet made up their mind whether or not they are going to appeal to the Supreme Court, but they do feel that they do have a good case to take to the Supreme Court because, as he indicates, he believes there is a conflict between the courts in the lower courts, and that is the kind of thing the United States Supreme Court would normally decide.

He further indicated how proud he was to represent the family and he issued a warning about what this decision meant for all others who apply for asylum in this country.

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