(CNSNews.com) - The decision by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to allow 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez to leave Florida and return to Cuba to be with his father by January 14th has drawn mixed reaction.
White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said on Wednesday that President Clinton believed the INS considered the Gonzalez matter fairly.
"He believes this was a difficult case for the INS, they acted appropriately, they gathered the facts in a very comprehensive way and applied the relevant rules and regulations and law fairly," Lockhart said at a White House news briefing.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms (R-NC) was angry over the INS decision. Helms said that he had been advised of the decision by Attorney General Janet Reno before it was formally announced.
"I advised her (Reno) that she, of all people, should want to see this matter resolved in the courts. Furthermore, I advised her, Elian's father should be required to come to the United States to make his case for custody of the boy. Elian's mother gave her life so he could grow up in freedom in America. For this reason, I reiterate that when Congress reconvenes later this month, I intend to proceed with a personal relief bill to give Elian United States citizenship. That way, when he is old enough to make decisions for himself, he will be able to claim the freedom his mother purchased for him with her life," Helms told CNSNews.com.
Republican presidential candidate Governor George W Bush thinks allowing Elian to return to Cuba is a mistake.
"The Cuban boy's dad ought to come to America. He ought to get a taste of freedom in America, and then he ought to make his decision on what's best for the boy. I don't trust Fidel Castro. I'm not so sure this man is making the right kind of judgment in the right kind of circumstance, and I think it's a mistake for the INS to send the boy back to Cuba," Bush said.
Jim Nicholson, Chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC), personally offered to "pay the cost to bring Elian's entire family to Miami so that we can learn for sure what his father wants, free of communist coercion."
Senator Connie Mack (R-FL) was not happy with the INS decision.
"It appears the memory of Elian's mother and her quest for freedom has been tossed aside, and her death may now have been in vain. The US Senate leadership asked the President for time to consider granting US citizenship to Elian Gonzalez so that the courts and his family could decide what is in his best interest. Instead, the administration has bowed to Fidel Castro's pressure and rewarded him for staging anti-American demonstrations and politicizing a 6-year-old boy," Mack told CNSNews.com.
Florida's senior Senator Robert Graham (D-FL) told CNSNews.com that the primary consideration in the case should be what is in Elian's best interest.
"It is disappointing that this very question has become so politicized. It is my hope that a family court judge with experience in child custody cases will make the final determination as to what is in his (Elian's) best interest. I would also like to applaud Miami for embracing this motherless boy with such enthusiasm. Our city has a long history of meeting tough challenges while showing compassion, hospitality and a strong sense of community. This tradition will allow us to respond to this situation with the dignity that Elian's plight deserves, "Graham told CNSNews.com.
Representative Jose Serrano (D-NY) is one member of Congress who is happy about the INS decision.
"Under the law, it is obvious from the beginning of this dispute that, absent extenuating circumstances, a parent has the right to be with his child and to make decisions about his child's interests. While happy about this decision, I remain very concerned about whether the INS has sufficient plans to enforce the decision, and, fundamentally, about the length of time it took and the process employed to reach the decision to reunite a child with his father," Serrano said.
Serrano also said he expressed these concerns in a letter to INS Commissioner Doris Meissner and hopes to have answers from her soon.
Serrano also believes the question now is how will Elian be returned to Cuba.
"My hope is that all of the INS's energies are devoted to returning this child to his father as soon as possible. I would hope that no one will do anything extreme to stop Elian from being reunited with his father. I'm happy when I see that child on television with his father in Cuba. We would hope that we don't invent another way to keep him here," Serrano told CNSNews.com.
Representative Charles Rangel (D-NY) also praised the Clinton administration for allowing Elian to return to Cuba because of "humanitarian concerns and the rule of law."
"The INS decision is clearly in the best interests of the child, and it came not a moment too soon. We should all be thankful that this little boy's nightmare is coming to an end. We should not waste another day in getting Elian back to where he belongs, and if needed, I am prepared to escort the child to his father and family myself," Rangel told CNSNews.com.
Reprensentative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, (R-FL), in a statement released to CNSNews.com from Capitol Hill, said: "Although we are all well aware of the record the Clinton administration has of cowtowing to the Castro regime, I would have expected our US officials to abide by INS' stated commitment to protect the needs of refugee children. This is unconscionable and flies in the face of humanitarian principles. Articles 6 and 7 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law and that all are equal before the law."
Ros-Lehtinen, a member of the House International Relations Committee and a Cuban exile, accused the Clinton administration of violating humanitarian principles.
"Unfortunately, the Clinton administration has chosen to ignore these principles and ignore the needs and welfare of Elian Gonzalez by making a unilateral decision to return him to Cuba, a decision based solely on information provided by the Castro regime and on controlled interviews with Elian's father. The administration silenced Elian and chose to pursue its policy of reapprochement with Castro rather than to allow all sides to present their case in court and to afford the US legal system the opportunity to rule on this issue," Ros-Lehtinen said.
Ros-Lehtinen said Elian Gonzalez must be protected despite the INS decision to return him to Cuba.
"It was also INS' responsibility to look at the future threat which Elian would be exposed to. It was Elian's mother's dying wish for her son to live in freedom and liberty in the US. Now that the INS has ignored this and has stripped away any hope for Elian to enjoy his right to life and liberty, we must continue working to protect him and other Cuban children whose rights are violated by the Castro regime."