Web-posted: 8:01 p.m. Dec. 8, 1999—MIAMI -- Attorneys working to keep a Cuban boy with his relatives in Miami said Wednesday they plan to file a petition for political asylum on the 6-year-old's behalf.
The move comes a day after the State Department said the Immigration and Naturalization Service will contact Elian Gonzalez's father in Cuba to establish what rights he may have to the boy.
But attorney Spencer Eig, representing Elian's great-aunt and great-uncle, asked the White House to allow the courts to decide the boy's fate. He insists a family court in Miami should decide custody.
"We intend to file, as soon as possible, a petition for political asylum in the boy's behalf, and we are exploring all other avenues available to us in the federal courts and in the courts of the state of Florida to protect Elian's welfare," said Eig.
Elian was found Nov. 25 clinging to an inner tube off the Florida coast. His mother and stepfather died in the illegal attempt to flee to the United States.
Elian's father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, has said he wants Elian to be returned to him in Cuba. The Cuban government have backed the father's wish in a diplomatic note sent to the United States.
The INS released Elian to his relatives in Miami and said last week that Florida courts should decide whether he should be returned to his father.
State Department spokesman James Foley said Tuesday night the INS will contact Gonzalez "to explain the process by which it will evaluate his rights in the case" of his son.
Eig declined to elaborate on any legal steps planned to keep the boy in the United States.
"What's important is not the rights of nations or the rights of his father but what's in Elian's best interest," said Eig. "This is how the courts will decide."
President Clinton said Wednesday his highest concern was "what is best for the child," but added he thinks "all fathers would be sympathetic" to the situation.
"I don't think that politics or threats should have anything to do with it and, if I have my way, it won't," Clinton said. He also said he did not think he should make the decision on what should happen to the boy.
Clinton suggested that officials in both nations "try to take as much political steam out of it as possible" for the child's sake.
It may be too late for that.
Like many in Cuba demanding the boy's return, many Cuban Americans in Miami have embraced the child, flooding talk radio stations with calls insisting the boy should remain here with his great-uncle, Lazaro Gonzalez, and his daughter Marisleysis Gonzalez.
"Brothers to the Rescue and other organizations are asking the community at this time to prepare, if necessary, to peacefully demonstrate to support the interests of this child," said Jose Basulto, president of Brothers to the Rescue, an anti-Castro organization based in Miami.
About 20 people demonstrated in downtown Miami Wednesday evening, calling for the boy to remain in the United States.
"I have nothing against my family in Cuba, but what I want for them is the same thing I want for Elian, to be in a free country," said Lazaro Gonzalez.
When asked how he'd feel if he were in the Elian's father's position, Gonzalez said: "I'd ask my family to take care of my son the way (we are), and I'd come over here."
Speaking publicly for the first time Tuesday night, the boy said, "I want to stay."
"We can't forget Elian's mother lost her life in order to give Elian an opportunity (for) freedom," said Jose Garcia-Pedrosa, an attorney representing Elian's relatives. "Her death should not be in vain. We appeal to the morality and honesty of President Clinton and Janet Reno to do the right thing."