WASHINGTON - The father of 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez, backed by the Justice Department, urged a federal appeals court yesterday to move quickly to "allow this family to go home" to Cuba.
With the legal dispute over the fate of the Cuban boy apparently nearing its end, the father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, said that every day of delay "is another day of interference" with his ability to raise his child "as he sees fit."
In parallel filings in the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Atlanta, Gonzalez and the Justice Department opposed a request by Elian's Miami relatives to reopen the case in the appeals court. The father and the department asked the court not only to refuse to reconsider the case, but also to put its refusal into effect immediately, rather than wait a customary week after such a decision.
If the appeals court agrees to that request, it could make it more difficult for the boy's Miami relatives to move on to the Supreme Court in hope of delaying Elian's return to Cuba with his father.
The relatives have been trying since late last year to force the Justice Department to consider granting Elian political asylum so he could remain in this country.
Attorney General Janet Reno and immigration officials have refused to consider the asylum request, saying that Elian's father opposes asylum and that government officials will respect his choice because he is the one who speaks for Elian.
The boy's mother drowned at sea in November as she, Elian and other Cubans were seeking to flee Cuba for the United States in a small boat. Elian was picked up at sea by two Florida fishermen on Thanksgiving Day.
Since then, the boy's fate has been tied up in a complex and prolonged legal battle between the Justice Department and the Miami relatives that Eian's father has since joined.
Even though Gonzalez opposes asylum for his son, the boy's great-uncle, Lazaro Gonzalez of Miami, submitted an asylum application on his behalf, with a printed signature by Elian. Reno considers Elian too young to speak for himself on legal matters and has ruled that, in any event, he would not qualify for political asylum.
On June 1, the appeals court upheld Reno's decision not to process the asylum papers. It found that federal immigration law left the Justice Department with wide discretion to decide what to do with asylum requests.
The Miami relatives asked the appeals court last week to take a new look at the case before the full 12-member court.
In his reply, the boy's father relied on a recent Supreme Court decision that reaffirmed the right of parents to make key decisions about how to raise their children.
Juan Miguel Gonzalez accused the Miami relatives of using legal maneuvers "to prolong Elian Gonzalez's stay in this country as long as possible."