June 1, 2000
A federal appeals court ruled today that the Immigration and Naturalization Service acted within the law when it denied Elian Gonzalez a political asylum hearing. Manny Diaz, lawyer for Elian's Miami family, comments on the ruling.
| JIM LEHRER: Now to Manny Diaz in Miami. Mr. Diaz is this thing almost
over from your perspective?
MANNY DIAZ: Well, I think we still have a little ways to go.
JIM LEHRER: How would you describe "a little ways?" Does that mean it will be appealed, this decision today?
MANNY DIAZ: Yes, we will be appealing this decision.
JIM LEHRER: Will you first ask for a rehearing before the court?
MANNY DIAZ: No, we haven't finalized that. Obviously we just got this today, there are a lot of considerations that have to be taken into account before we make the final decision.
|Headed to the Supreme Court?|
LEHRER: Your colleagues have expressed disappointment with the decision,
obviously, because it wasn't the one you wanted. But what's your reading
of it legally, is there anything you see in there that is legal material
for an appeal to the U.S. Supreme court?
MANNY DIAZ: Well, I guess the fundamental issue is a constitutional one. We believe that there should be, there's a conflict right now among the various circuit court of appeals with respect to whether an alien on our soil has a constitutional right to apply for asylum. This particular circuit does not believe that that is the case. But there are others that hold that they do. And those are the kinds of decisions that the Supreme Court tends to want to look at.
JIM LEHRER: and so but you're not saying definitely a decision has been made to go to the Supreme Court, is that right? Do I understand you correctly?
MANNY DIAZ: Well, going to the Supreme Court as opposed to initially go back to the 11th Circuit with respect to a rehearing, that decision has not been made yet.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. In other words, you have not decided definitely to appeal this decision, is that correct?
MANNY DIAZ: No, we have decided to appeal the decision. The vehicle is just not yet determined.
JIM LEHRER: I see. What do you say to Miguel Gonzalez, the father, and others, today, who said that maybe it's the time for the Miami family to back off and get this thing resolved, how do you respond to that general premise?
MANNY DIAZ: Well, the family does not want to back off. The family has believed from the very start that Elian should be entitled to an asylum hearing. I think it's important to note, today, that in the opinion the court specifically described Lazaro Gonzalez as an able representative throughout this process for Elian Gonzalez, and at the same time denied Juan Miguel Gonzalez' motion to substitute himself for Lazaro in these proceedings.
JIM LEHRER: And that's important to you, right?
MANNY DIAZ: That's clearly very important and obviously was important for the court.
JIM LEHRER: Explain why that might be important in the process from here on.
MANNY DIAZ: Well, because the viability, if you will, of our position I believe remains intact.
JIM LEHRER: In other words, if the court had said, all right, the uncle is no longer the legal, can no longer bring a request for an asylum hearing, that would have pretty much ended it for you, is that correct?
MANNY DIAZ: Well, of course. And when they filed their motion to substitute right after the raid down here, it was clear that they were attempting to moot the appeal by replacing Lazaro with Juan Miguel.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah. And the court's failure to side with Juan Miguel in this case gives you hope, then, that there's still some life in this appeal, is that essentially what you're saying?
MANNY DIAZ: I think that's a fair assessment. And I think they've indicated that the appeal is not over, that perhaps we still have some ways to go.
|JIM LEHRER: Now, what about this issue of visiting Elian,
how strongly do your clients feel about that?
MANNY DIAZ: Well, they feel very strongly. I think it's amazing to us, quite frankly, I believe you asked the question very well of Mr. Cooper -- doesn't the INS control Elian, and in fact doesn't the INS control Juan Miguel? Juan Miguel is on our soil at the direction and acceptance of our government, and it seems odd to us that they feel that they cannot instruct Juan Miguel, if you will, for something that they by the way throughout the process of our negotiations over the last several months always did take the position that the families ought to come together. After the -- Juan Miguel and Elian were reunited, the statements were, well, they need a couple days to catch up with each other, but after that certainly the families ought to get together. Well, it's now been quite some time, and nothing has happened.
JIM LEHRER: How did you read Mr. Cooper's response where he said, well, the government would have no objection to such a visit?
MANNY DIAZ: Well, they say that on the one hand. But on the other hand, they say that, (a) they cannot control what Juan Miguel does or doesn't do. And (b) that in order for the family to do that, they have to go through some sort of prescreening with the government-paid psychologist, who we all know rendered opinions on what the result of this should be even before they had met Elian, seen the child, seen the child interact with the families. They had issued their medical opinion, which apparently has upset many other professionals around the country.
JIM LEHRER: Do you read Miguel Gonzalez' position the way Mr. Cooper does, that as long as the family continues to appeal this matter, as a legal matter, that he would not be in favor of a family visit?
MANNY DIAZ: Well, that's what -- Mr. Cooper was correct. The letter that the family received did establish that precondition, that he was willing to let them see Elian as long as they dropped all the - as long as they dropped this appeal and the litigation, which obviously means we get to say good-bye to him.
JIM LEHRER: But nothing has changed, i mean you all are going to appeal so, that means there is not going to be a visit. Is that essentially correct, is that a fair reading of the situation as we sit here tonight?
MANNY DIAZ: Yes. We indicated today at our press conference that this was an important issue to us and we were going to make one more effort through letters and through telephone communications to try to make that visit, facilitate that visit, and failing to do that, then we will consider and we have been studying potential legal avenues to make that visit possible.
JIM LEHRER: What would be the point of the visit, why does the family want to visit Elian at this point?
MANNY DIAZ: Well, for one thing they love him. They spent a lot of time with him. They want to see how he is. They spent some very, very critical months of his life with him. I might add, by the way, that it's not just the family, but the Catholic priest who was Elian's spiritual advisor. Elian is Catholic, his mother was Catholic, who was preparing him for his First Communion, has also wanted to see him. And obviously we have also, his lawyers, have not been allowed to see him.
JIM LEHRER: So it's not a case of trying to talk him into of saying or doing anything about his father or staying in the United States versus going back to Cuba. It's not a device to do anything, it just a case they just want to see their little boy relative, is that it?
MANNY DIAZ: That's correct. In fact, you know, despite the spin that the government gave us for quite some time, the family was never embarked on any kind of campaign like that.
|Respect for the process|
|JIM LEHRER: Back to where we began, Mr. Diaz, do you think
this thing still has weeks, possibly months to go before it's resolved?
MANNY DIAZ: I don't know about months, frankly. The whole appellate process so far has been on an expedited basis, and we have agreed to that, because we do believe that these are issues of critical concern. The court, the appellate court was very cooperative in studying an expedited schedule, and complying with that schedule. We suspect that if we move along, we have the possibility for the rehearing, the possibility for a Supreme Court review, that in any further process that it would also be on an expedited basis. So, a few weeks, but it's really hard to tell at this point.
JIM LEHRER: In a nutshell, you don't have a problem with the process up to now, you have a problem with the result up till now, is that correct?
MANNY DIAZ: Absolutely. We have utmost respect for the 11th Circuit and in particular for the panel that heard this case. We were treated fairly. They obviously gave the case a tremendous amount of review and were very careful in their opinion, and in that regard we're obviously very grateful.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Mr. Diaz, thank you very much.
MANNY DIAZ: Thank you.