FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASEAG
SATURDAY, APRIL 22, 2000(202) 616-2777
WWW.USDOJ.GOVTDD (202) 514-1888
ATTORNEY GENERAL STATEMENT REGARDING
THE REMOVAL OF ELIAN GONZALEZ
"Good morning. Earlier this morning, federal agents in Miami upheld the rule of law and began to reunite Elian Gonzalez with his father. "As I speak, Elian is safe and on a plane headed from Homestead Air Force Base to Andrews Airforce Base where he will be reunited with his father for the first time in 5 months.
"When the two are reunited, they will remain together in the United States throughout the appeals process while the injunction is in place. And, in accordance with the Court of Appeals ruling, we will take every step necessary to ensure that Elian does not leave the country while the Court of Appeals injunction is in place.
"We have been to great lengths to resolve this case in the least disruptive manner possible. Up until the last [moment], we tried every way we could to encourage Lazaro Gonzalez to voluntarily hand the child over to his father.
"Unfortunately, the Miami relatives rejected our efforts -- leaving us no other option but the enforcement action.
"Elian Gonzalez is a child who needs to be cherished -- he needs to have quiet time, private time, to be with his father. And that is what this case is still all about--the bond between father and son. Juan Miguel Gonzalez wants to be with his son and that is what has happened now.
"More than three months ago the INS determined that only Juan Miguel Gonzalez could speak for his son on immigration matters. From that moment, I could have taken action to return Elian to his father. But I did not.
"Instead I gave the Miami relatives a chance to challenge my decision in federal district court. They did and the court sided with the government. It ruled that this was a federal case and that the INS was right to say that the father speaks for the child.
"Two weeks ago, a state family court turned away the Miami relatives as well. In a strongly-worded opinion, the judge said not only that the matter belonged in federal court, but that a 6 year old boy is far too young to make life altering decisions on his own.
"That same week, I traveled to Miami to try to encourage the family members to work out a resolution. The relatives in Miami said all they wanted was a meeting with Juan Miguel Gonzalez, before turning over the child. But when I arranged that meeting, they still refused to produce Elian.
"Every step of the way the Miami relatives kept moving the goal posts and raising more hurdles.
"That is why I finally directed the relatives to turn over the child 9 days ago. That deadline carried great significance. When Lazaro Gonzalez didn't comply, parole and care was revoked. That means that for the past 9 days, Lazaro Gonzalez has not had lawful custody of Elian.
"When the INS places an unaccompanied child into the care of an adult, that adult is required to abide by the directives of the INS. To maintain -- as the Miami relatives did -- that the INS somehow lacks authority over the immigration parole of a minor in the U.S. simply ignores the law.
"So this morning I commenced an operation with the paramount concern being the well-being of Elian and the safety of the agents and others. "After negotiating through the night, I informed the parties that time had run out. At that moment, I gave the go-ahead for the operation.
"After I had already set the operation in motion, the intermediaries called back to offer one more counteroffer. I indicated that I was willing to continue to engage in dialogue, but time had run out.
"I did until the final moments try to reach a voluntary solution. Law enforcement personnel on the scene, were authorized to, and did, make the final call as to when to enter the Gonzalez home.
"Eight agents were in the house during the operation. They were there for three minutes. During that time, a female agent picked up Elian, and spoke to him in Spanish.
"The agents then took Elian to Watson Island where they boarded a helicopter bound for Homestead Airforce Base. There he was examined by a doctor to make sure there were no injuries. At that point, he was boarded onto a U.S. Marshal's plane headed to Washington DC where his father is anxiously waiting for his son.
"This has been a very emotional case for everyone involved. The most important thing is Elian is safe and that no one is seriously hurt.
"As we all await the outcome of the appellate process, I think it is important for us all to accept Elian's long over-due reunion with his father.
"It is time to heal the wounds that have divided this community that is so dear to me.
"Let us give him and his father the space, the calm, and the moral support they need to reconnect and reaffirm their bond between father and son."