Miami Relatives Request Political Asylum for Elian

By Bob Melvin | July 7, 2008 | 8:08 PM EDT

( - The Miami relatives of Cuban boat refugee Elian Gonzalez on Thursday asked a panel of three judges in federal court in Atlanta to grant the six-year-old boy a political asylum hearing in order to remain in the United States. That request goes against the wishes of the boy's father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, who wishes to return to Cuba with his son as soon as possible.

The lawyer for Elian's Miami relatives, Kendall Coffey, argued before the court panel that the boy might face an oppressive life and be brainwashed should he be returned to Cuba.

"There is no way a regime (the Castro Cuban government) that is obsessed with this case ... is going to allow Elian to walk around and say he loves this country (the United States)," said Coffey. He added that Elian would be forced by Cuban authorities to denounce his dead mother as a traitor. "This child is going to be purged," Coffey added.

The three-judge panel from the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals peppered Coffey, lawyers for the US government and for his Cuban father with questions concerning the US Immigration and Naturalization Service's decision to deny Elian an asylum hearing because of his age.

The INS ruling, upheld in a Miami court, cleared the way for the boy to be reunited with his father and subsequently prompted a federal raid on the home of the Miami relatives on April 22nd in order to secure Elian and return him to Juan Miguel's custody. The father and son have since resided temporarily at the Wye Plantation on the eastern shore of Maryland.

Coffey accused the INS of breaking its rules by refusing to give Elian an asylum hearing. He said the boy had the capacity to understand the ramifications of a hearing and said there were no age requirements for political asylum requests.

But Gregory Craig, the attorney for Juan Miguel, said, "The INS got it right, and the decision is supported by common sense, common law and our Constitution."

Led by Lazaro Gonzalez, a great-uncle who had vowed never to allow Elian's return to communist-ruled Cuba, the relatives sat in silence as Craig asked the court to quash their appeal of the INS ruling and end a legal battle that has divided the family and inflamed Miami's Cuban-American community.

"We need to return this family to the paths of their own choosing and the destinies of their own design," said Craig, who was later jeered and heckled outside the court by a throng of Cuban Americans opposed to sending Elian back to Cuba.

Speaking on behalf of the US government, Edwin Kneedler told the court that Attorney General Janet Reno and the INS were well within their rights to deny an asylum hearing, saying that if such a hearing were granted it would be a "fundamental attack on the relationship between a parent and a child."

The lawyers argued their respective cases for more than 90 minutes when the judicial panel decided they had heard enough.
James Edmondson, the presiding judge, told the court not to expect a ruling this week. Edmondson said he hoped a decision could be handed down within a few weeks.

Legal experts told news service reporters that the court's decision will hinge on a statute that says "any alien" may apply for US political asylum. The question is whether Congress envisioned that a 6-year-old child can have political beliefs that strong.

Elian was nowhere near the Atlanta court on Thursday.