Burton Keeps Gonzalez Adrift in Legal Limbo

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Say what you will about Dan Burton — and INS lawyers are saying plenty right about now — the Indiana Republican knows how to throw a legislative monkey wrench. Immigration and Naturalization Services officials spent the weekend working to determine whether the eleventh-hour subpoena Burton filed Friday for Elian Gonzalez to testify before Congress February 10 will preclude the agency from returning the six-year-old boy to his father in Cuba by its stated deadline of January 14. And while Burton, a legislative ally of anti-Castro senator Jesse Helms, could be expected to find some way to both keep the boy in the country and make some political hay for himself, support came from less expected quarters. Saturday's example: New Hampshire senator Bob Smith, a member of the Senate committee that oversees the INS, who took time out of his busy schedule sorting through the ruins of his abortive presidential run to visit with Elian and his relatives in Miami on Saturday. Smith's verdict: There is some new, unspecified information that affects the case, the boy doesn't want to go home, and he'll do everything he can to keep Gonzalez in the U.S.

That could signal a tough time for the operatives at INS as they search for ways to keep their promise to have Elian Havana-bound by Friday. They'll get little help from the White House, which is (at least for the moment) sitting this one out. And while White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart said last week that that the matter "should be considered on the facts" and "not in the political arena," that's the most likely venue where this boy's fate will be decided.