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Grandmothers to Meet Elian At Dominician Sister’s House

By Janet Hook and Mike Clary
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- WASHINGTON

Complying with an order from U.S. immigration officials, the Florida relatives of Elian Gonzalez agreed Tuesday to allow him to meet with his Cuban grandmothers Wednesday at a neutral site in Miami, the Justice Department said.

The agreement came after the women spent much of the day trekking through a blizzard here to urge members of Congress to block legislation that would make it harder for them to bring the 6-year-old boy back to Cuba.

“He belongs in Cuba,” said Mariela Quintana, Elian’s paternal grandmother, weeping as she spoke through a translator to reporters. “He was born in Cuba and he’s a Cuban citizen.”

The meeting is scheduled to take place at 4 p.m. at the Miami Beach home of Jeanne O’Laughlin, president of Barry University in Miami Shores and a sister in the Dominican order. O’Laughlin is a longtime friend of Attorney General Janet Reno.

“It will be a private meeting and the (Florida relatives) will let us know who will accompany” Elian, said Justice Department spokeswoman Carole Florman. “We have assured them that this is just a visit and the grandmothers have no intention of leaving Florida with Elian.”

The women will have time alone with their grandson, Florman said.

Meanwhile, President Clinton lent some support to the grandmothers’ cause, saying Tuesday that he had not ruled out the possibility of vetoing legislation that, if passed by Congress, would make Elian a U.S. citizen.

At issue is the fate of the boy found floating on an inner tube off the coast of Florida Thanksgiving Day. He had been in a boat that capsized while carrying him and his mother and 12 others to the United States from Cuba. His mother was one of 11 people who drowned. The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service has ruled that Elian must be sent home to his father in Cuba but his Miami relatives have filed a lawsuit to block that move.

The grandmothers’ whirlwind tour of Capitol Hill came one day after they failed in an attempt to meet with their grandson in Miami. In a letter Tuesday, the INS told Elian’s Miami relatives to allow the grandmothers to meet the boy in a “neutral setting.”

While on Capitol Hill, the grandmothers received encouragement from members of Congress who oppose legislation to make Elian a U.S. citizen.