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Elián González

How Many T-shirts and Banners Must He Become?

by Mark A. Rogers

page five

Late in the day on Friday, 7 January 2000, United States Representative Dan Burton, R-Indiana, issued a subpoena for Elián González to appear before Burton’s House Government Reform Committee on February 10, 2000. This is well after the 14 January 2000 date set by the INS to repatriate Elián with his father.

CNN reported that Juan Miguel González, Elián’s father, responded to Burton’s subpoena saying

“Why, who does he think he is? I don’t know what right that gentleman¾if you can call him that¾has. I have my rights. Even the INS has said that the only one who can speak for him is me, his father.”

Media sources reported that Representative Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R-Florida, made the request for the subpoena hoping that Congress would pass a bill granting Elián U.S. citizenship. The reason Diaz-Balart went to Burton’s committee is because he is the only one who could issue a subpoena when Congress is out of session. This move has produced a delay in the repatriation process and was intended to force the INS to keep Elián in the U.S. until Congress reconvenes on 24 January 2000. When Congress reconvenes, media pundits reported members of the House of Representatives and Senate will represent private legislation to confer citizenship, or minimally permanent residency status on Elián González. Members of Congress hope this will cause Elián to be kept in the U.S. On the other hand, it is reported that this form of legislation is exceedingly difficult to pass unless everyone in Congress is in agreement; otherwise, it can be delayed for a long time. And delay is what this is all about. Elián’s great-uncle in Miami, Lazaro González, also filed for temporary custody of Elián on Friday, 7 January 2000 in Florida family court. If the court names Lazaro temporary guardian, then he would be able to apply for U.S. citizenship on Elián’s behalf.

It now appears it is too late to keep politics out of this repatriation process, this international tug-of-war over Elián. Again, we must reflect on the core question here, how many T-shirts and banners must he become? Lou Waters, CNN Anchor, asked Bob Franken, CNN Congressional Correspondent, do we let the legal, the judicial system, take care of this repatriation process, this international tug-of-war over Elián, and keep the politics out of it? Franken responded to the question by saying

Well, some of the question is whether or not the judicial system in the form of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, INS, has already, in fact, adjudicated this. This is what is being decided. Let’s not loose cite of the fact that when somebody has a cause, legal maneuvering and political maneuvering usually are two tools at the command of the people. Right now, there is this effort to try and delay having Elian Gonzalez to leave the United States, but, of course, there could be some sort of compromise that’s worked out. The effort to bring this before Congress is just one effort to try and delay things.

Armando Guttierez, a spokesman for Elián’s Miami relatives, told CNN staff in Miami, “There is no way this family will turn that boy over. The INS has backed itself into a corner with this decision. The father’s going to have to come to Miami to try to get his son back.” And Jose Basulto, director of the anti-Castro organization Brothers to the Rescue, told CNN staff in Miami that his group as well as the Democracia Movement would do “anything to stop this action.” CNN reported that Basulto “urged Cuban Americans to form traffic slowdowns and stoppages as a way to protest the order. He also urged protesters to form a human ring around the boy to prevent him from being taken away.

During CNN’s Burden of Proof segment aired on 7 January 2000, Roger Cossack, Co-Host, asked Dan Stein, Executive Director, Federation for American Immigration Reform, about Stein’s views on whether Elián’s repatriation process is more about a political battle so that others can benefit politically than it is about the welfare of Elián. Stein’s view and comments were

There’s no question about the fact that the boy’s interests are no longer being considered by any of the primary players in this. Now we see the presidential candidates getting involved. Republican presidential candidates are trying to make an issue out of this, gain, obviously, the votes of the Cuban community in Miami in November.

Clinton administration has made the right decision because the Constitution gives the executive branch a very high degree of discretion in deciding these issues. As in foreign affairs and trade, certainly on immigration matters in a case like this, the INS and the attorney general have almost exclusive authority to determine a custody issue for a child who is legally at the port of entry. Al Gore [is] being put in the very difficult position during his campaign of having to try and thread the needle and not be burned by the prospect of losing South Florida, effectively, over the politics over this child.

If the father really believed that the child was going to be in some serious injury or death as a result of being returned to Cuba, I believe the father would sacrifice himself to protect the interest of the son and come out and tell the truth, if in fact he were being coerced. But we cannot take¾we cannot go down to Cuba and essentially kidnap the father, make him come to Florida if he doesn’t want to. And we can’t have Congress stripping a father of custody of his own child through what would effectively be a bill of attainder.

So, in the end, Congress ought to back off and let the process work the way it should constitutionally.

During Larry King Live, which aired on 5 January 2000, Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Presidential Candidate, blended politics with his reflection of the repatriation process and the international tug-of-war over Elián. Again, we must reflect carefully on Senator McCain’s comments and ask ourselves, is he speaking and representing what is in the best interests of the child? Senator McCain, how many T-shirts and banners must Elián become?

I was just thinking while I was listening to your other guests¾they have a saying¾a slogan at the Statue of Liberty. It says: “Send me your poor, your tired, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” yearning to breathe free. That’s what Elian’s mother was doing when she literally sacrificed her life so that her son could breathe free. And she gave her life so that he might have freedom.

I don’t know why this father didn’t know about it or anybody else in the communist hierarchy didn’t know about it. But clearly, this young man deserves freedom. He deserves not to be sent back to a totalitarian, oppressive, repressive government.

Larry King then asks Senator McCain what he thinks the father deserves. Senator McCain’s comments were

I think the father deserves the ability to come to the United States. I don’t know why he hasn’t. And I wish that he would be able to do that. But this young man deserves to grow up in a free and open society and have the bounties and beauties of freedom rather than living in a country where Fidel Castro has decided that their young women would sell themselves in order to have hard currency for this regime to stay in power.

Larry King follows with a question regarding whether Senator McCain would encourage children to run away from their parents in oppressed countries, whether they need to get on boats any way they can, to get over here, so that we can take them in. “Forget your mother or your father, get here.” And Senator McCain’s comments were

If the children want to achieve freedom, which they attempted to do¾that’s why they built the Berlin Wall, Larry. That’s why we all know if Castro ever let them loose, there would be a sign that said, “Last one out turn out the lights.”

We need to take pause here with Senator McCain’s viewpoint and comments, particularly to his appeal to all children living under oppressive regimes in foreign countries to runaway from their parents, forget their mothers or their fathers, and come to the United States so that they “could breathe free.” Maybe Senator McCain, and maybe all of the plurality of voices in our global family of cultures vying for their right to reality, need to “take a moment” and reflect on the essay that one Columbine student wrote.

The paradox of our time in history is that we have taller buildings, but shorter tempers; wider freeways, but narrower viewpoints; we spend more, but have less; we buy more, but enjoy it less.

We have bigger houses and smaller families; more conveniences, but less time; we have more degrees, but less sense; more knowledge, but less judgment; more experts, but more problems; more medication, but less wellness.

We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values. We talk too much, love too seldom, and hate too often. We’ve learned how to make a living, but not a life; we’ve added years to life, not life to years.

We’ve been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet the new neighbor.

We’ve conquered outer space, but not inner space; we’ve cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul; we’ve split the atom, but not our prejudice.

We have higher incomes, but lower morals; we’ve become long on quantity, but short on quality.

These are the times of tall men, and short character; steep profits, and shallow relationships.

These are the times of world peace, but domestic warfare; more leisure, but less fun; more kinds of food, but less nutrition.

These are the days of two incomes; but more divorce; of fancier houses, but broken homes.

It is a time when there is much in the show window and nothing in the stockroom; a time when technology can bring this letter to you, and a time when you can choose either to make a difference .. or just hit delete.

Harriet Ryan, Court TV asks us to reflect on the repatriation process of Elián, and that Elián is proof our democracy has principles higher than democracy.

Maybe the U.S. did something noble. Maybe it took the right course of action, rather than the easiest one. Elian is heading home because his father is there, and because the United States after much soul-searching recognized that nothing¾neither election-year worries in a politically important state, nor our troubled history with Cuba, nor even our Constitutional guarantees¾are more fundamental than the bond between parent and child.

…National prestige and south Florida politics dictated that Elian remain in Miami, but there was something more basic at play here. Civilized people and countries assume parents are the natural and best guardians of their offspring and their rights are inviolable in all but the worse cases. That means parents can’t be forced to give up their kids purely because they are poor, illiterate or sick.

And, the INS determined today, a father cannot lose his son because he lives in a repressive dictatorship. Juan Gonzalez may not be able to give his son an independent press or freedom of religion, but he can be a parent to Elian. The U.S. recognized today that it could give Elian a lot of important rights, but it could never replace his father. The government weighed democracy and family, and found family to be more important.

Jill Nelson, USA Today, reported that “family values” does exist in Cuba too. She argues that the INS decision asserts that the “U.S. government’s decades-old hostility toward Fidel Castro and the communist Cuban government doesn’t trump the bond between parent and child, even at the risk of offending Florida’s large and politically powerful anti-Castro Cuban community.”

Elian’s return to the arms of his father will be a small victory for the much-touted notion of “family values” that American politicians love to bandy about. It’s about time those politicians realized that the values they profess to believe in should not be subject to the prevailing political wind, particularly the chilly one we’ve imposed over Cuba. The right to return to homeland and family extends to everyone, whatever the U.S. government might think of their homelands. If we enable people to return to war-ravaged Bosnia, certainly Elian should be sent back to his dad in Cuba.

In light of this tug-of-war, this international, cross-cultural shouting match, we need to reflect on what Dr. Wade F. Horn asks, will fathers become extinct in the next century? He argues that this question would have been unthinkable 100 years ago. Is the Elián González case another confirmation that dads are disappearing? Is this case another unsettling instance to reflect on the “question whether fathers will survive the next century is unsettled?” Horn reports that nearly 40 percent of all children live absent their biological father. He says that approximately 40 percent of the children who live in fatherless households haven’t seen their fathers for at least a year. Fifty percent of the children who don’t live with their father, according to Horn, “have never even stepped foot in their father’s home.” Is Elián González doomed to become a statistic, as Horn highlights, where Elián becomes part of the cohort of more than half of the children in the United States today who will spend half of their childhood in a father-absent household. And Horn argues, “Some experts predict soon this will increase to 60 percent.” Fatherless children, Horn asks us to reflect on, are more likely to fail at school or drop out, suffer an emotional or behavioral problem requiring psychiatric treatment, engage in early and promiscuous sex, and commit crime.

On 18 June 1999, in the Senate of the United States, Senate Resolution 125 was passed to encourage and promote greater involvement of fathers in their children’s lives. This resolution also designated 20 June 1999, as “National Father’s Return Day.” Senate Resolution 125 reflected that the Senate

1.      Recognizes that the creation of a better United States requires the active involvement of fathers in the rearing and development of their children.

2.      Urges each father in the United States to accept his full share of responsibility for the lives of his children, to be actively involved in rearing his children, and to encourage the emotional, academic, moral, and spiritual development of his children.

3.      Urges the States to hold fathers who ignore their legal responsibilities accountable for their actions and to pursue more aggressive enforcement of child support obligations.

4.      Encourages each father to devote time, energy, and resources to his children, recognizing that children need not only material support, but also, more importantly, a secure, affectionate, family environment.

5.      Urges governments and institutions at every level to remove barriers to father involvement and enact public policies that encourage and support the efforts of fathers who do want to become more engaged in the lives of their children.

6.      To demonstrate the commitment of the Senate to those critically important goals, designates June 20, 1999, as National Father’s Return Day.

7.      Calls on fathers around the country to use the day to reconnect and rededicate themselves to their children’s lives, to spend National Father’s Return Day with their children, and to express their love and support for them.

8.      Requests that the President issue a proclamation calling on the people of the United States to observe ‘National Father’s Return Day’ with appropriate ceremonies and activities.

During a TalkBack Live segment that aired on 6 January 2000, Tony Levitas, Psychologist, offered commentary about the repatriation controversy of the Elián González case. His words are indeed well advised, and sentiments that ascend above the transactions of the marketplace in the practice of both United States and international law, and particularly, when the “T-shirt and the banner” is a child. His words too are indeed well advised for all those individuals who assert that they speak for Elián, and they are words that these individuals need to keep in mind in their line of sight as they lead Elián through the maze of the plurality of voices in our global family of cultures vying to speak for Elián’s right to reality.

I think the first thing we need to keep in mind is that this child has sustained tremendous loss to begin with. He’s lost his mother forever. He’s likely dealing with really horrific grief, and there’s a whole range of emotions that he’s likely to be experiencing, from shock and disbelief to anger, sadness and questioning why. He’s also been torn apart from his father and his homeland. So he’s really dealing with quite an adjustment. I’m not sure if people are keeping those factors in mind. I think it would be hard for any child in this case, who’s been lavished with gifts and trips to Disneyworld and all sorts of perks, if you will, to stay here. So he’s probably in a state of denial right now about what he’s dealing with. But this will hit him at some point, whether it’s today or tomorrow or next year. But he will have to deal with this.

Why must we erect conditions and constraints on Juan Miguel González’s fatherhood during this tug-of-war? There is no question that this tug-of-war is forcing him to struggle, even punishing him, with adapting to varying situations across time and circumstances (Snarey, 1993) and with overcoming the barriers that prevent him from participating in a caring effort to “maintain supportive conditions” for Elián’s healthy growth and development (Erikson, 1998, as cited in Dollahite, Hawkins, & Brotherson, 1997). Juan Miguel is struggling with maintaining attachments with Elián, in spite of the numerous obstacles that are barriers, so that Elián and Juan Miguel can foster love between the generations “in a way that attends to the deep and abiding needs that children of all ages have to be knit together with previous generations” (Gilligan, 1982, p. 29).

The transactions of the marketplace in this international tug-of-war are a nemesis on everyone. These transactions reek of the fear of death and stagnation and would arouse in any parent “a shudder which comes from the sudden awareness that our own nonexistence is entirely possible,” (Erikson, 1958, p. 11) and the existential imperilment of feeling the threatened loss of our children (Snarey, 1993, p. 23). Elián must be feeling torn and dejected with the prospect of losing more than a residential relationship with Juan Miguel. Elián too will have to encounter, if not now then eventually, the existential imperilment of feeling the threatened loss of Juan Miguel.

This international tug-of-war with so many people claiming to speak for Elián and their thinly veiled bias for the motherhood mystique, their ignorance of the science and craft of clinical psychology and psychiatry and respective perceptual frameworks, and a strict preference for the science and philosophy of law, cannot be apathetically tolerated because these people who assert that they speak for Elián are profoundly influencing his well being and his right to reality. They must not be permitted to side step their complicity, their liability, as a contributor in the manifestation of spreading a chill over the love between the generations and the generative legacy they wish for Elián to inherit and incorporate throughout his lifespan. The chilling behavior of those who claim they speak for Elián, whether it originates from negligence or a belief that they are the bastions for preserving the legal, narrow interpretation of the best interest of the child standard, what will be their generative gift to Elián? We need to ask ourselves, do we want to be a party to all of this and take ownership of this generative gift to Elián and Juan Miguel and expect that this gift will foster love between the generations “in a way that attends to the deep and abiding needs that children of all ages have to be knit together with previous generations?” (Gilligan, 1982, p. 29).

We are left then with one final question. Elián González, how many T-shirts and banners must you become?

Back to page one...

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

About the author...

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