U.S. Slaps Down Miami Cubans Over Elian

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Commonsense humanity has triumphed over politics, and Elian Gonzalez can finally go home to his father. The Immigration and Naturalization Service announced a ruling Wednesday that the six-year-old who became a poster child for anti-Castro Cubans after surviving a shipwreck in the Florida Strait must be returned to his father by January 14. The decision was based, said INS official Doris Meissner, on the fact that "family reunification is the cornerstone of U.S. immigration policy." His Miami relatives, backed by the local anti-Castro political machinery, are expected to seek a legal injunction against sending Elian home, but it's unlikely that any federal judge will overrule the INS given that the boy's natural father, backed by both sets of grandparents, have demanded his return. "Cuban-American organizations will exhaust every last resort they have, including street protests, because they want to keep the boy here as an anti-Castro symbol," says TIME Miami bureau chief Tim Padgett. "Family concerns aren't a major consideration of the organizations involved. They've argued all along that the family he's with is less important than which country he's in, and they believe he's better off here."

Washington's decision may anger the Miami organizations, but it also takes the wind out of Fidel Castro's sails. Cuban-American campaigning to keep Elian separated from his natural family has enraged ordinary Cubans, and that had allowed Castro to draw millions of people onto the streets for some old-style anti-yanqui protests. U.S. Cuba policy is often determined with a close eye on the electoral strength of Florida's exile community, and the decision to overrule them in an election year may pose a risk for Al Gore. "But the Democrats know they're unlikely to beat George Bush in Florida anyway," says Padgett, "and that may have allowed the administration to consider only what was in the best interests of the boy."