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Focus on News, Politics, etc.
by Jim Wrenn, Editor (April 6, 2000 (05:30am EDT)

Elian Gonzales and Miguel Gonzales:
Waiting for Gonzales.

    As we wait to learn whether, and under what circumstances, the father of Elian Gonzales will come to the United States to seek custody of Elian, it's useful to try to put the matter in proper perspective.  Should we be devoting so much attention to Elain's plight?  Of course.  Unfortunately, the vast majority of Americans are probably more concerned with the activities of celebrities than Elian's fate, but to the extent that drawing attention to his circumstances inspires serious thought about the differences between a free society and a totalitarian one among people otherwise not inclined toward thinking about such matters, that's at least some progress.
    Suppose a mother in an African country in which parents practice genital mutilation on females were to have informed relatives in the United States that she intended to flee that country by boat to seek refuge in the United States for herself and her six-year-old daughter to protect her daughter from her husband's demands that the daughter be subjected to such procedure.  Suppose the boat were to have sunk.  Suppose the six-year-old girl were to have survived in a life-jacket and been retrieved by a private citizen in a boat and promptly taken to the U.S. Coast Guard.  Suppose the Coast Guard were to have taken the child to a hospital and then notified the INS.  Suppose relatives of the child in the U.S. were to have learned the child had been recovered at sea and taken to a U.S. hospital.  Suppose the INS were to then have given such relatives temporary custody over the girl.  Suppose such relatives are kind, caring people who agree with the mother's reasons for seeking refuge in the United States.
    Suppose the father were to politically and financially able travel to the U.S. and were to promptly do so and demand custody of his daughter.  As much as we may want to exalt parental authority over governmental authority in our society (never mind, for the moment, that the growing government-knows-best philosophy in the U.S. is rapidly eroding parental authority by permitting governmental officials to give condoms, birth-control pills, birth-control shots, abortions, etc. to minors without parental knowledge or consent), would the INS simply return the child to the custody of the father without conducting any evidentiary hearing whatsoever into the relatives' contentions that it would be contrary to the best interests of the child to be returned to a country in which her father would almost certainly succumb to social and cultural pressure in his own country by subjecting the girl to genital mutilation?  I think not.
    Should such risk of genital mutilation be the only basis for conducting an inquiry into the best interests of a child having been brought onto U.S. soil under such circumstances?  As much as I favor parental authority over governmental authority, I think not.
    If the "best interests of the child" were to be a proper subject of inquiry in this hypothetical, why should it not be a proper subject of inquiry in determining whether to allow Elian Gonzales to remain in the United States?  With respect to a totalitarian society in which governmental power over children vastly exceeds even the wildest dreams of Hillary Clinton, should not such government's totalitarian power over Elian's father's ability to decide what is best for his child be a legitimate subject of inquiry?  Should not our government conduct an evidentiary hearing to determine, if possible, what would be the wishes of Elian's father under circumstances adequate to enable him to freely express his wishes for his son?  Should not the power of a totalitarian government to psychologically mutilate a child despite any objection by the child's parent be deemed a sufficient reason for an evidentiary hearing into what would be in the child's best interests?
    To those who oppose such evidentiary determination upon their sincere beliefs that to conduct such hearing would violate what they consider to be the higher principle of recognizing parental authority over governmental authority, I say that such argument fails when the government under which such parent lives is a totalitarian government that treats parental authority as subordinate to governmental authority with respect to moral and political beliefs.  Awarding custody of a child to a parent who is subject to a totalitarian government that refuses to recognize the most fundamental parental rights of moral and political instruction makes a mockery of parental rights rather than supporting them.
    Therefore, as one who strongly favors parental authority over governmental authority (and who strongly objects to the growing trend in the United States continually diluting parental authority by strengthening nanny-government authority over parental authority), I think the INS should parole Elian to a family court to conduct an evidentiary hearing.  I agree with Gore's and Bush's proposals that Congress promptly confer citizenship or permanent-residency status upon Elian, his father, and all members of his father's family.  Then, if the father, while on American soil with his entire family outside the presence and control of any Cuban official,  were to demand custody of Elian, I think the court should award him custody of Elain absence evidence clearly indicating the father would be an unfit parent.  I suspect, but have no way to know, that Elian's father preferred to allow Elian to grow up in the United States but may now be unwilling to say so.  I hope that Elian's father would decide to seek political asylum, but if he were to not do so, I think we must respect his request for custody of Elian.
    Finally, to those would say we should not respect such choice by Elian's father under such circumstances, I say that the conduct of Elian's mother in fleeing Cuba and the fact that Castro's daughter defected are proof that the desire for freedom can overcome the most powerful governmental propaganda.  Perhaps years from now, Elian will become a great Cuban leader for freedom.  Perhaps it's in the best interests of freedom for Cuba and for Elian that Elian has become an icon for freedom.  If Castro were really smart, he probably would now change his mind.   Even though Elian is only six years old, he's old enough to always remember the kindness of his Miami relatives and to know the difference between an atmosphere of freedom and one of coercion and intimidation.   Let's hope Elian ultimately becomes a political pathogen for freedom as Castro inevitably fades into oblivion.  Like the Soviet Union, Castro's totalitarian system is destined for the dustbin of history, and the actions of the Miami relatives in making Elian an icon for freedom will ultimately be viewed as an important milestone in the ultimate collapse of totalitarianism in Cuba.

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