January 5, 2000

INS Decision in the Elian Gonzalez Case

Doris Meissner
Commissioner, Immigration and Naturalization Service

The case of Elian Gonzalez has been a difficult one for several reasons. Elian Gonzalez is a six-year-old boy, too young to make legal decisions for himself. In this circumstance, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) had to decide who could legally speak for him on immigration issues. This task was complicated by the fact that several people other than Elian’s father—a great uncle as well as three lawyers —claimed to represent him. As a result, INS met with the father in Cuba, and separately, with the great uncle and the lawyers in Miami. After careful evaluation of the relevant facts, INS has determined that Mr. Juan Gonzalez of Cuba has the sole legal authority to speak on behalf of his son, Elian, regarding Elian’s immigration status in the United States.

There is no question that Mr. Gonzalez is Elian’s father. Moreover, Mr. Gonzalez has had a close and continuous parental relationship with his son. During INS’ interviews with Elian’s father, he provided vivid details about his parental relationship with his son and about the nature of the bond they share as father and son. He provided extensive documentation about Elian’s schooling and his medical and health histories, as well as photographs depicting the activities in which he and his other family members frequently participated with Elian. This scope of information and level of detail Mr. Gonzalez provided helped inform INS as to the nature and closeness of the relationship Mr. Gonzalez shared with his son Elian. INS has not uncovered any information that might call into question Mr. Gonzalez’s parental and legal rights with regard to Elian’s immigration status.

During INS’ two meetings with Mr. Gonzalez, his wishes for Elian were discussed at some length. He made it very clear during both of these meetings that he wants Elian returned to him as soon as possible. Based on these meetings, INS believes that he is expressing his true wishes, and therefore we have determined that Elian should be reunited with his father, Mr. Gonzalez.

INS has advised both Mr. Gonzalez and Elian’s great uncle in Miami of this decision, and is prepared to work with all the parties involved to make the appropriate arrangements for Elian’s return to his father by January 14, 2000.

Having reached a decision, INS believes there are several ways this decision can be implemented. The United States has discussed with the Government of Cuba their consideration of allowing Mr. Gonzalez, Elian’s father, to travel to the United States to accompany Elian home. INS also has offered Elian’s great uncle in Miami and any member of his Miami family an opportunity to escort Elian back to Cuba. In addition, third parties have offered to assist in facilitating Elian’s return to his father. INS is ready to work with the family and others to make appropriate arrangement for Elian to be reunited with his father. We believe this decision can be carried out without INS’ taking charge of Elian.

This decision has been based on the facts and the law. Both U.S. and international law recognize the unique relationship between parent and child, and family reunification has long been a cornerstone of both American immigration law and INS practice.

It is our hope that with the knowledge of today’s decision, the Miami relatives will agree to cooperate and work together, with either Elian’s father or a third party, to facilitate Elian’s return to his father. This little boy, who has been through so much, belongs with his father. We urge everyone involved to understand, respect and uphold the bond between parent and child and the laws of the United States.