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Appeals Court Denies Elian’s American Relatives Access

By Karen DeYoung

Federal appeals court considering the Elian Gonzalez case agreed Thursday to let Elian’s father intervene in the case and in a separate ruling rebuffed efforts by the boy’s Miami relatives to meet with him.

The court also denied the relatives’ requests that Elian be seen by psychologists and lawyers they have retained for him and that the court appoint an independent advocate to represent his interests.

The rulings by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in response to emergency motions filed this week, increased the already high level of anticipated drama in a hearing scheduled for May 11. The court invited father Juan Miguel Gonzalez to file a brief by next Monday, and said it would “consider a specific request” to allow him time to speak during the hearing. One member of the three-judge panel dissented, saying the father’s request to intervene had come too late in the legal proceedings, and that the government could represent his interests.

The larger question before the panel is whether a lower court erred when it upheld an Immigration and Naturalization Service ruling that only Elian’s father, and not his Miami great-uncle, Lazaro Gonzalez, could file an application for political asylum on the boy’s behalf.

The court deferred ruling on father Juan Miguel Gonzalez’s separate request that he be substituted for Lazaro Gonzalez as Elian’s “next friend” in the case -- the person the court recognizes as representing the interests of a minor.

In her weekly briefing to reporters Thursday, Attorney General Janet Reno again defended Saturday morning’s seizure of Elian from Lazaro Gonzalez’s Miami home by armed federal agents. “Elian was being held by this person and there had to be a show of force, not a use of force, to show that we were in control,” Reno said.

As the agents tried to enter, Reno said, “people tried to throw ropes” -- later clarified by department officials to have been television cables -- around them. “A couch was pushed up against the door,” she said, obliging the agents to use a battering ram to get inside. Protesters outside the house had tried, and nearly succeeded, in bringing to the ground the female agent who was carrying Elian out of the house, Reno said.

Reno again disputed the contention of Miami civic officials mediating with the relatives that a negotiated settlement was near in the hours before the predawn raid occured. After nearly four months of failed attempts to gain the relatives’ cooperation, “It wasn’t going to get any better,” she said.

The Justice Department released figures Thursday showing that the raid, and other related expenses since Elian was first rescued from the migrant shipwreck in which his mother drowned last November, have cost taxpayers $578,000.

The largest single outlay was $374,000 for the INS, including costs associated with the 131 INS agents who participated in the raid. U.S. marshals who have transported and guarded him since then have spent $161,000.

Meanwhile, as the Senate headed toward hearings on the seizure next week, First Lady and New York Senate candidate Hillary Clinton said she hoped “this taste of freedom and the opportunity to be with his son” would persuade the father not to return to Cuba. “But,” she said, “at the end of the day this has to be the father’s decision.”