A strong case that INS had to do what it did

Elian: Traumatized little boy belongs with his dad in privacy

everything else is politics.

April 25, 2000

THOSE WHO DOUBT the wisdom of returning Elian Gonzalez to his father and half-brother ought to look at the photographs of the family reunion.

They show the 6-year-old happier than he has appeared since arriving on these shores after the death of his mother. The authenticity of these photographs is now beyond doubt, and so should be the necessity of the raid that brought Elian back to his father.

Though the raid on Lazaro Gonzalez's Miami house is being criticized, there is no dispute about the professional skill with which it was carried out -- successfully and speedily. Nor is there disagreement that it followed legal form, including a search warrant.

The tradition of U.S. family law and American family values support the outcome.

A show of force was necessary. Hardheads in the Cuban-American community had organized mob behavior to obstruct the law and keep Elian imprisoned in a goldfish bowl. The Miami family was negotiating in bad faith.

Many people are using Elian Gonzalez to restore their own faded political fortunes, cynically and without regard to the child's welfare.

These include Fidel Castro, mobilizing Cuban fervor as he has not been able to do for years; leaders of the Cuban American National Foundation and its rivals in Miami; and such talk-show habitues as Republican congressional leaders Orin Hatch, Tom DeLay and Trent Lott, who appear to be refighting the impeachment battle they lost last year, using any issue.

Still, the photo of the Immigration and Naturalization Service officer with an assault weapon is deeply troubling. This is not the image U.S. citizens want of their government -- even when the same photograph shows Donato Dalrymple clutching a terrified Elian in a tug-of-war.

Granted, the INS acted after endless patience on the part of Attorney General Janet Reno. Granted, two or three INS officers could never have gone in, unarmed, in a civilized way, having been threatened by the family and its supporters.

The argument most deserving of examination at a congressional hearing is whether the Justice Department should first have obtained a court order directing the Gonzalez family to hand the boy over, so that its members would be guilty of contempt if they refused.

That the INS acted legally and on provocation, however, is beyond doubt.

Yes, there should have been a better way. So far, no one has said with credibility what that could have been.

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