Judge rejects asylum plea for Elian

A U.S. federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit aimed at keeping 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez in the United States, saying only the U.S. attorney general can grant asylum to the Cuban boy.

U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore's ruling came 12 days after hearing arguments in the lawsuit filed by Elian's great-uncle, Lazaro Gonzalez. Gonzalez wants to keep Elian, against the wishes of the boy's father in Cuba.

"Determination to grant asylum is a matter within the discretion of the attorney general," Moore wrote in the 50-page ruling.

A spokesman in the office of Ricardo Alarcon, president of Cuba's National Assembly said that authorities were reviewing the ruling.

The U.S. government had asked the judge to dismiss the lawsuit, which asked the court to compel the Immigration and Naturalization Service to give Elian an asylum hearing.

The judge wrote that the litigation was "well-intended" but it could bring about "unintended harm" because of "the reality that each passing day is another day lost between Juan Gonzalez and his son."

Elian's fate has been debated since he was found clinging to an inner tube off Florida on Nov. 25. His mother and 10 others drowned whe reach the United States. The case has become a tug of war between the Cuban government and family members in the United States who oppose the Cuban government's Communist ideology and want to raise the motherless boy.

In early January, the INS ordered that Elian be returned to his father, a decision backed by U.S. President Bill Clinton and Attorney General Janet Reno. The order was put on hold pending the court fight.

Attorneys for Lazaro Gonzalez have argued that the INS violated the boy's rights by refusing to grant him a political asylum hearing when he was rescued.

But government lawyers said Elian's father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, opposed asylum for his son, and that his wishes should be respected over those of the boy's great-uncle.

In addition, government lawyers said, INS officials conducted a thorough investigation, which was reviewed by Reno, and found no basis for an asylum claim.

While any alien may apply for political asylum, INS officials said Elian is too young and only a parent or guardian can file an application for him.

During the three-hour hearing earlier this month, Moore asked why the INS did not simply reject the asylum application filed on Elian's behalf by the great-uncle and return him to his father.

Government lawyers said the boy already was traumatised by his ordeal at sea and it made sense at the time to release the boy to the custody of relatives who showed up at the hospital.

The battle over Elian has divided the boy's relatives on both sides of the Florida Straits, and has taken on impassioned and often ugly ideological overtones that underscore the differences separating Cubans in the two nations.

Since his arrival in Florida, Elian has captivated many Cuban-Americans, who say the boy is a symbol of the plight of Cuban people under Fidel Castro.

Cuban-American groups have held protests and lobbied presidential candidates and members of Congress to help buy time to keep Elian from being returned to his father.

In Cuba, tens of thousands have staged rallies and marches to demand the boy's return.

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