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Cuban Boy’s Uncle Presses For Political Asylum Hearing

By Mike Clary

Attorneys representing the Miami relatives of Elian Gonzalez insisted in federal court Thursday that the 6-year-old has the right to apply for political asylum even though U.S. immigration officials have ruled that he should be returned to his father in Cuba.

“The future of a child who has suffered extraordinary trauma is at issue,” said Kendall Coffey, one of several lawyers representing Elian’s great-uncle, Lazaro Gonzalez, who wants to keep the boy in the United States. “It would not be so drastic to allow him a hearing. But to summarily subject him to being torn away from the loved ones caring for him now (would be).”

After three hours of back-and-forth legal wrangling, U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore recessed the case without ruling on the government’s motion to dismiss Lazaro Gonzalez’s lawsuit seeking to block the child’s repatriation.

But in questions from the bench, Moore seemed sympathetic to the Miami relatives’ contentions that a full-blown hearing on an asylum claim could best resolve the issue of what is best for Elian. The judge also said at one point that “it seems almost mandatory” that a legal guardian be appointed to represent the child during litigation.

Before ruling on Elian’s right to an asylum hearing, Moore must first decide if the federal court has jurisdiction to hear the case, and then whether Lazaro Gonzalez has standing to sue the government on behalf of Elian. The judge gave no indication when he might rule.

In Washington, a lawyer who represented President Clinton during his impeachment trial announced that he now represents Elian’s father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez.

“We have met with Mr. Gonzalez alone and privately in Cuba, and we are satisfied that Mr. Gonzalez is not being pressured or coerced in any way in his desire to be reunited with his son,” Gregory B. Craig said in a statement.

Elian was found at sea Nov. 25, two days after his mother and 10 others drowned when a smuggler’s boat sailing from Cardenas, Cuba, to south Florida capsized in the Florida Strait.