April 12, 2000

Clinton and Reno: Using Elian, Abusing Freedom

David Limbaugh. April 12, 2000

After making a mockery of it for nearly eight years, the Clinton administration seems to have a newfound interest in the rule of law.

Even coming from this lawless administration, it's difficult to dispute the proposition that all of us, including Elian's Miami relatives, should obey the law. But that's hardly the issue of first order in the Elian Gonzalez matter.

By far the most important question is: What is in the best interests of this six-year-old Cuban boy whose mother gave her life for his freedom? Tragically, that appears to be the last on this administration's list of priorities.

While spouting irrelevant platitudes about the rule of law, Janet Reno is also mouthing bromides about the sanctity of the father-son relationship. Is it just me, or do you also find it curious that this "It Takes a Village" administration is championing the parental-child bond?

Reno's angle is to confuse. In her familiar role as water boy for the president, she wants us to believe that the child's best interests are driving the administration's policy in this case. Invoking the father-child relationship is designed to establish that perception. The sad reality is that the administration is using the rule of law and the father-child relationship as cover for its complete disregard for the child's best interests.

Those who are putting their faith in the appeals process are betting on the wrong horse. Don't be misled into thinking that the appellate court will consider the merits of the issue of what is in the child's best interests. Rather, it will decide whether the Immigration and Naturalization Service has the authority to send the child back, irrespective of his best interests. In all likelihood, it will affirm the legal right of the INS to assume jurisdiction over the child and exercise its discretion in sending him back to Cuba.

If the administration were truly interested in promoting Elian's welfare, it would be doing all it could to gather all the facts. Waxing eloquent about Juan Gonzalez's love for his child is not a substitute for determining the child's best interests.

The fact that Reno and the INS have the legal authority to send Elian back does not make it right for them to do so. They also have the right not to. What they would do if they sincerely cared about Elian's well-being is allow this matter to be determined by the Florida State courts, which are equipped to and routinely hear child custody cases.

Why are Clinton and Reno so committed to avoiding an evidentiary custody hearing? Why are they in such a big hurry? Don't tell me that Elian's not being treated well where he is now. That won't fly. And don't tell me that his father can't bear to live another day apart from him. This is the same father who approved of these Florida relatives raising him before Castro started speaking for him.

It is precisely because Clinton is in such a hurry to send Elian back without a hearing that we know conclusively that he's motivated by something other than the child's interests, such as normalizing relations with Cuba. Couldn't Reno just this once extricate herself from Clinton's corrupt clutches and do what is right for this child whose interests she is claiming to protect?

The state court should be allowed to conduct a hearing to determine what is in Elian's best interests. And in that hearing, all relevant evidence should be considered, including the very important father-child relationship.

But the court should also examine the relative living conditions the boy would experience in free Florida versus communist Cuba. Living conditions are always relevant in child custody cases.

To that end, the court may be interested in discovering why, if Cuba is such a wonderful venue in which to raise a child, Elian's mother (like so many others before her) gave her life to escape it. It may also be interested in finding out why Juan Gonzalez has changed his position on this matter and whether any coercion by the Cuban government was involved. And it may try to discover why Juan Gonzalez's parents were taken hostage by the government pending his return to Cuba.

In consigning Elian back to slavery without a hearing, this administration is setting back the cause of freedom - in this country and in Cuba.


David Limbaugh graduated cum laude with a political science degree from the University of Missouri. He received his law degree from the UM Law School in 1978 and was on the Missouri Law Review. After finishing school, Limbaugh taught business law at Southeast Missouri State from 1977 to 1978. He was admitted to the bar in 1978 and has practiced law for 20 years. He is presently a partner in the firm of Limbaugh, Russell, Payne and Howard. He has been a syndicated columnist since 1998.

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