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Elián González

How Many T-shirts and Banners Must He Become?

by Mark A. Rogers

page four

On the 5 January 2000 at 12:13 p.m. ET, Doris Meissner, Immigration and Naturalization Service Commissioner, held a news conference informing the world about the INS decision regarding repatriating Elián with his father in Cuba. She emphasized that the spirit of the decision was based on the facts and the law. “Both United States 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.” Meissner concluded the news conference with the following words to reflect on, “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” (CNN.COM, 2000).

Janet Reno, Attorney General, (CNN.COM, 2000) during her weekly briefing to the press, made the following comments regarding the INS decision. “…Myself, I try to be as open-minded as I can, but based on all the information that we have to date, I see no decision for reversing it. …What they took into consideration is: Who under the law, can speak for this six-year-old boy, who really can’t speak for himself. He has a father, and there is a bond between father and son that the law recognizes and tries to honor. We have no information that would indicate that the legal connection, that bond, should not be honored.” She went on to say, “We hope the day will come when this won’t be an issue anymore between Cuba and the rest of the hemisphere. But this is a little 6-year-old boy.”

The case of Elián González is difficult for more reasons than anyone ever could have imagined. Elián is a six-year old boy who is too young to make legal decisions for himself. The charter for the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service in this issue was to decide who could legally speak for Elián on immigration issues. According to Meissner, “This task was complicated by the fact that several people other than Elián’s father, a great uncle as well as three lawyers, claimed to represent him.” And what about the others who perished on the voyage with Elián? Did they say things to him in the last moments leading up to their deaths? Can they claim to represent him too? Only time will tell. The world will have to wait until Elián “reaches the age of reason” and can represent himself.

In the meantime, until Elián “reaches the age of reason,” Eunice Ponce and Elaine de Valle (2000, January 10) with the Miami Herald report, “Mania over Elián is rising.”

“He’s a miracle,” said Maria Rodriguez, 55, who stopped by the boy’s house before heading to the parade. “The fact that he made it for two days, with dolphins circling around him¾that proves he’s a miracle.”

Religious candles line the sidewalk in front of Elian’s uncle’s modest house in Little Havana¾Elian’s South Florida home. A handwritten placard leans against the fence in front of their driveway. Translated from Spanish, it reads: “Elian: Immigration wants to tie your hands and put you in the lion’s mouth like in the time of the Romans.”

“I think the dolphins love him more than his father,” said Sonia Espinosa, a Nicaraguan American at the parade. “They took care of him when he was alone, orphaned in the ocean. He is a miracle.”

Ponce and de Valle reported a nine-year old girl, Indira Del Valle, who had just come from Cuba with her mother, told them, “Fidel orders the schools to be closed, and everyone has to attend the marches. They tell us what to chant: Devuelvan a Elian (Return Elian).” Indira also told these reporters that other children in defiance of the mandatory marches have their own chants. Elian, amigo, mándame un abrigo.(Elian, my friend, send me a coat.)

On a Burden of Proof segment aired on 6 January 2000, Greta Van Susteren, Co-Host, (CNN, 2000) commented that in resolving a repatriation dispute such as Elián’s, there is usually a legal preference in favor of the biological father where both sides can openly discuss in a recorded fashion the issues. She then asked Linda Osberg-Braun, one of Elián’s attorneys, about this specific issue in light of the existing INS standard and process for repatriating Elián.

…You’ve just hit the key to this whole case. …Under normal circumstances, this is not a normal situation, this is no longer a normal boy because of what Castro has done to him. We need to air everything in open court, in an administrative setting, and we will compel INS to follow those rules, so all of the issues can be aired.

I wonder if we all ought to ask Osberg-Braun and the other bevy of attorneys who claim that they speak for Elián, what complicity, what liability, do they have on what is happening cognitively, emotionally, physically, psychologically, and spiritually to the normalcy of this boy, and like Castro, what are they doing to Elián? De Bono (1991) reminds us that “we can always defend our existing thinking culture because, fundamentally, it is a particular belief system based on concepts of truth and logic.” Each belief system assembles a framework of perception within which it cannot be attacked. De Bono argues that “the arrogance of logic means that if we have a logically impeccable argument then we must be right¾I am right¾you are wrong.” Our logic systems “carried through into language,” de Bono insists, create and crystallize “perceptions that are crude and polarized¾of the ‘right/wrong’ and ‘use/them’ type. Logic cannot change beliefs and prejudices but can be used to reinforce them and solidify the perceptions.” Why is this little boy, Elián González, so different, so unusual, and so unconventional from all the rest of our children in our global family of cultures vying for their right to reality? How many T-shirts and banners must he become? Why must he be used as a particular flavor of logic that does not change beliefs and prejudices, but in reality, is being used to reinforce them and solidify the perceptions?

During the Burden of Proof segment aired on 6 January 2000, Ira Kurzban, an immigration attorney, corrected Greta Van Susteren, Co-Host, when she maintained that the U.S. “has some sort of procedure” for an unaccompanied foreign minor in this country. Kurzban reported this was only in domestic matters, and then went on to add

In immigration matters, the attorney general typically and always makes that decision. Now whether that is right or not is another matter. But what you are really saying here is: We should make an exception because this child is coming from Cuba. And you know, the next time this happens when the child is from Haiti or from Iraq or Afghanistan or anywhere else, you have got to decide: Are you going to give that child the full due process hearing? There are thousands of kids who come from Mexico every year. Are you going to give everyone of those kids a full due process hearing?

Putting aside politics, ideology, and immigration policies for the moment, this international tug-of-war and best interests of the child debate is far more sinister than most of us realize, and these issues should give us all great pause. Why must fathers in the U.S., and now everywhere in our global family of cultures, have to prove they are fit, subject themselves to second-class citizenship and gender bias on innumerous levels, while the motherhood mystique, while mothers for that matter, enjoy our instant support in the fabric of every layer of our cultural norms and roles, our societal institutions, and the judiciary framework of the domestic relations courts? Are we really prepared for the outcome? When you reflect on the outcome, think about what Ricardo Alarcon, President, Cuban National Assembly, said during a segment of World News on CNN (2000, January 7).

The assumption that fathers do not have rights in countries with whom you may not agree with their policies and so on is really silly. Are you going to admit into the U.S. how many hundreds of millions of Chinese children because they do not live in a so-called free society? That’s really the attitude that a normal American father has? I don’t believe that. What can this man do in addition of what he has done?” He has met, has talked three times alone with representatives of INS.

Jeffrey M. Leving, custody attorney, commented on a segment of CNN’s TalkBack Live on 11 January 2000 about the controversy and tug-of-war over repatriation of Elián with his father in Cuba, or for that matter, repatriation of a child in any country with a repressive regime.

…If Immigration, if INS or any other legal or judicial body in the United States determines that it is a basis to admit children into the United States and separate them from their parents, and the basis is that their parents are living in a country under a repressive regime, then we better plan to bring in millions and millions and millions of children from all over the world and build thousands of orphanages throughout the United States. And that would be ridiculous.

Miles O’Brien, CNN Anchor, on a Saturday Morning News segment that aired on 8 January 2000, discussed with Mark Potter, CNN Correspondent, the Cuban generation gap and the effect this issue is having on what should be done with Elián González. Potter reported that the majority of the Cuban-American community in Miami believes that Elián should stay in the United States. He also reported, on the other hand, that there is a sizeable group in the community who believe that the rights of Juan Miguel, Elián’s father, should trump the political and other considerations at work in the Cuban-American community, and that Elián should be repatriated with his father.

This is not a monolithic community, and it’s changing, it has been changing along the lines that you described, generationally. We have seen differences in the past in the area of the acceptance of Cuban musicians coming here. The older ones who more clearly remember what happened when they lost their country in the late 1950s are definitely opposed to that. The younger ones are more tolerant. They’re more tolerant of free speech issues. So that gap has been growing over time, and it does break along those lines. It is in place here, but that’s not the only factor. It’s a question of what’s best for the child, being with his father, or here, away from the situation in Cuba, where they say that he would not have¾not only the material goods that he would have in the United States, but the food, the clothing, the freedom that he has here. There are many people who feel that sending him back to Cuba is tantamount to child abuse. It’s a very strong and emotional argument.

CNN reported that Max Castro, a Cuba expert at the University of Miami, used his weekly column in the Miami Herald newspaper to encourage the U.S. government to reflect on the pressure Cuban exiles are exerting on the government to repatriate Elián with his father.

Once again hard-line exiles are using their clout to drive the U.S. government to adopt a course of action that would fly in the face of law and logic, not to mention larger U.S. interests. It is especially ironic that the very people who have clamored loudest for maintaining the embargo on the sale of food to Cuba, which has a negative impact on the welfare of most children there, now are at the forefront of ensuring the future of this one poster child.

The pressure from the Cuban exiles also is ascending itself to the highest levels of the U.S. government and to political figures considered to have the greatest amount of influence. This pressure is robed in the sentiments of “motherhood,” “freedom,” and “what’s in the best interests of the child” standard. Alice in Wonderland here we come. Marisleysis Gonzalez, Elián’s cousin in Miami, wrote to Hillary Clinton, First Lady and Senate candidate for New York pleading

I ask you as a mother to remember Elián’s mother’s will, that she wanted him to grow up in the United States and enjoy the possibilities that America affords us all …Don’t let his mother’s will be gone in the Atlantic waters. Let him stay in a free country.

Putting aside this pressure from the Cuban exiles for the moment, we need to reflect on Marisleysis Gonzalez’s words and consider the bias lurking beneath her verbiage and whether this bias is indeed in the spirit of the best interests of the child standard. If the table was turned on this tug-of-war, and we were talking about a mother who was in Cuba and wanted her child back, then Elián would have celebrated his 6th birthday in Cuba rather than in Miami, Florida. Instead of Elizabet, Elián’s mother being on that boat, if it would have been his father who had drowned taking Elián from Cuba away from his mother, would we still be having mania over Elián? Would we still be anointing Juan Miguel, Elián’s father with sainthood and immortalizing him for eternity in the psyche of the plurality of voices in our global family of cultures vying for their right to reality? Or as Kathleen Parker (1999) asks us to reflect on would we be “vilifying him and the stepmother for kidnapping the child and risking his life by placing him on a motorboat overloaded with human cargo.” Maybe as Parker asks us to consider, “Juan Miguel deserves not only his son, but an apology and, perhaps, a congressional medal for self-restraint.”

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Copyright © 2000, Mark A. Rogers, M.S., M.A., Psy.D.
All rights reserved.
Honisa Behavioral Treatment Centers, Inc.
Chicago, Illinois

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