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Attorney General Reno Holds News Conference on Elian Gonzalez Court Decision

Aired June 1, 2000 - 2:15 p.m. ET


NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: And live now to U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno on today's Elian Gonzalez ruling.


JANET RENO, ATTORNEY GENERAL: ... that only Juan Miguel Gonzalez can speak for his son Elian on federal immigration matters.

These three federal appellate judges have now joined with a federal district court judge and a Florida state court judge in recognizing the authority of the INS to make this determination.

This is a very important step in achieving the goal we have sought from the very beginning: to give Juan Miguel and his family the opportunity to return to a life together.

I am hopeful that this matter will soon reach a final resolution so that Elian, his father and the family may resume their lives away from the scrutiny of the media and the uncertainty that the legal battle has caused for his entire family.

I hope that all of us, regardless of our disagreements about this case, can join together and wish these people well.

Elian remains in his father's care, but he and family will not immediately depart the United States. The injunction put in place by the 11th Circuit will remain in effect until the court's mandate in this case is issued. The INS departure control order put in place on April 22 will remain in effect until the injunction is no longer in effect.

Finally, I want to take a moment to commend the dedicated and just absolutely splendid attorneys and staff at the Department of Justice and the Immigration and Naturalization Service who have worked so hard over the past six months on this litigation.

They, like so many Americans and indeed people around the world, were moved by this human drama, and they have devoted long hours to bring about an outcome consistent with the law and the tradition of respect for the parent-child relationship.

QUESTION: Ms. Reno, Elian and his family won't depart until the mandate is issued. There's a little bit of confusion about when that takes place. At the end of the 14 days? Within 52 days?

RENO: My understanding is that if nothing else was done at the -- it will depend on what is filed. But if nothing is done and no steps are taken, it would end seven days after the 14 days.

QUESTION: In his emergency application to the Supreme Court this morning, Lazaro Gonzalez says Elian will be subjected to irreparable harm if he's returned to Cuba, citing brainwashing and forced labor for the children of dissidents. How do you respond to the fact that this really isn't in the best interest of Elian to send him back to his home country?

RENO: I respond by pointing to Elian. And if there is one thing that everybody I think can agree on, it is that he is a wonderful little boy, a remarkable little boy, a strong little boy, a little boy that has been raised in an excellent manner by both his mother and his father.

One of the things that was made clear by the mother of Elian's mother, when she came to see me, was that Juan Miguel Gonzalez had been a very important part of Elian's life.

He has made, along with the boy's mother, judgments concerning the child. They are responsible for that young man and I think he will do a good job of raising him.

QUESTION: What is the significance of the court denying Juan Miguel's request to replace Lazaro as next friend (ph)? Does that pose any particular problems for you as this case progresses?

RENO: I don't think it will because it is confined just to the litigation.

QUESTION: Have you had any conversations with the attorney for Juan Miguel Gonzalez today? And, if so, can you tell us anything about that communication?

RENO: I have not, but I believe Mr. Holder has.

QUESTION: Can you tell us what -- what their plans are?

ERIC HOLDER, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, I can tell you one thing. They plan to make a statement shortly after this one so that she get's reorganizations over there, I suppose.

They were happy obviously with the decision and I think happy also with the work that has been done by the INS and by the Justice Department, but I'd let them speak for themselves with regard to any amplification of that.

QUESTION: Did they give any indication of how soon they might want to return to Cuba, or did you discuss how soon they could return?

HOLDER: No. I did not discuss that with him, but as I said, I'll leave that to Mr. Craig.

QUESTION: Ms. Reno, as far as the timing: you mentioned the 14 days plus seven days for the mandate.

Is that your best expectations for when Elian could and would actually return to Cuba?

RENO: No, that is assuming that nothing is filed.

QUESTION: When do you expect to have some timing of this?

RENO: I don't know. I think the other lawyer should answer that.

QUESTION: What is your understanding of the papers that were filed in the Supreme Court? Where they just lodged or were they filed? And...


RENO: I'm told that they were lodged in case there was -- the injunction was dissolved.

QUESTION: And now?

RENO: Now they serve no purposes as I understand it.

QUESTION: Ms. Reno, can I just ask you, in this opinion, although it upheld your legal authority to decide as you and the INS did, there was some criticism by the court -- like on page 22, it said, "We are not untroubled by the degree of obedience you put to the wishes of parents who live outside the country," and that, on page 23, "It worries us some that a parent who lives in a communist state is not given special circumstances for this." What's your assessment of that criticism?

RENO: I don't take it as criticism. I think it is important, as the court notes, to make sure that Juan Miguel's decisions were his decisions. I think we -- the court notes what steps that we took. And I think, as the court said, our decision was reasoned and reasonable.

QUESTION: I'm sorry to do the timing again, but in your hypothetical, if nothing happens, because the appeals court has allowed 14 days for an appeal to the sort of full hearing before the full court, so on, where does the extra seven days come in? Would they not, if nothing happens, would they not be presumed to issue the mandate at the end of the 14 days?

RENO: As I understand it, the mandate will issue at the end of seven days after the final steps taken in the process. Now, I don't know what the other attorneys in this litigation will do in terms of what they might file.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) it's seven days beyond when there's a conclusion, as you said?

RENO: That's as I understand it.

QUESTION: So the earliest that he could leave is three days?

RENO: No, I didn't say that. I said you have to ask the other lawyers in this litigation what they intend...

QUESTION: I understand that. But the earliest, if they do nothing.

RENO: I don't know what the lawyers in the litigation will do.

QUESTION: Ms. Reno, are any of the other courts bound by the timeframe you're discussing, making decisions, you know, in terms of whether or not they take the case, reject it or anything by the 21 days?

RENO: I'm not sure I understand your question.

QUESTION: If the family says, you know, it wants to make an appeal to the full court or to the Supreme Court, do they have -- are those courts bound by that timeframe -- that 21-day timeframe to make a decision on whether to...


RENO: The 21 days applies if nobody files, if the attorney for Juan Miguel or the attorneys for Lazaro Gonzalez -- if they don't file.

QUESTION: Ms. Reno, a number of groups that handle refugee and asylum cases have said that this case spotlighted the plight of thousands of unaccompanied minors that come into the country every year.

And they questioned whether the INS is really equipped to deal with children in these sorts of circumstances, whether they're unclaimed or there's a custody battle.

Are you satisfied the INS is doing the best it can to do with I think it's about 3,000 cases a year of unaccompanied minors, many of them in detention?

RENO: I think the detention of children and the appropriate care of children, particularly in situations involving smugglers and people who trade in human lives, is one of the most difficult jobs that INS has. And I think, with the resources they have, they're doing a very good job.

QUESTION: But could they use something else, or this is...

RENO: We can always use more help.

QUESTION: The court was careful not to endorse the INS's decision, only to say that it had the authority to do what it did. Do you think that the INS's policy, when it comes to the treatment of minors, of 6-year-olds, et cetera, needs to be reviewed, in light of the aspects of this case that emerged (ph)? RENO: I think that justice has been done. You have a situation here that is different. And the court notes that there is no other decision of any court or this court that would apply in this situation, because I don't think any of us have seen this situation framed precisely before. And I think, based on all the circumstances, that justice had been done.

ALLEN: Attorney General Janet Reno speaking out about the outcome of the Elian Gonzalez appeal for an asylum hearing. The court denying a political asylum hearing for the 6-year-old from Cuba. Janet Reno saying: We are pleased of the ruling, and that only Juan Miguel Gonzalez can speak for his son.

She also said that she hopes we can all, no matter what we think about this case, wish this family well. As you know, Attorney General Reno is from the Miami area and has been broadly criticized by people, Cubans now living in Miami about her stance.

She also said, if the Miami relatives were not to appeal -- that's the big next step here, will they appeal? -- if they were not to file an appeal, Elian Gonzalez would be free to go home within three weeks.

We will continue to watch developments. As they mention, the attorney for Juan Miguel Gonzalez, Elian's father, may be speaking next at the microphones, and we will bring you live coverage of that if and when it happens.



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