Letter to the Editor of The Wall Street Journal Concerning Elian Gonzalez

This letter was published in the Wall Street Journal, April 17, 2000.

Dear Sir:

Two Letters to the Editor appeared on April 7 (“Morality’s Guardian Is the Rule of Law”) critical of the April 5 commentary by House Majority Whip Tom Delay (“No Compromise on Elian”). Mr. Delay had criticized Janet Reno for her handling of the Elian Gonzalez case. Both letters made essentially the same point. “The law is crystal clear,” said one. “The Cubans in Miami and many of their government officials are in open rebellion against the law of the U.S.” Mr. Delay, said the other letter, “should realize that legal process, far from being a ‘contrivance,’ is the very thing that protects the rights of the individual in our society.”

Who could disagree with the contention that individual rights are protected by the rule of law? But I can assure your readers, based on my experience as director of policy for the Bureau of Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs at the State Department during the Reagan Administration, then as the first director of the Asylum Policy and Review Unit of the Justice Department, that the law that applies in the Elian Gonzalez case gives wide discretion to the attorney general do the right thing. Indeed, my office at Justice was informally dubbed “The No More Medveds Office,” after Miroslav Medved, the Ukrainian sailor who twice jumped ship in the New Orleans harbor and swam to shore, thinking he would find freedom there, only to be sent back both times by the INS. It was from profound embarrassment over the incident that the Reagan Administration created the Asylum Unit, which oversaw the INS on asylum matters, making recommendations to the attorney general on individual cases.

Apparently, the Clinton Administration suffers no such embarrassment. As the revealing chronology of the Gonzalez case makes clear (“The Politics of Elian,” editorial, April 6), this administration, as in so many other areas, is hiding behind the rule of law even as it methodically undermines the rule of law. Upon landing here, Mr. Gonzalez, like the grandmothers before him, could have gone immediately to see his son. He has an open invitation from the Miami family, which Elian now calls home. Instead, he is led on the political tour. Until he is free—not simply from Fidel Castro but from Janet Reno, “his lawyer” Greg Craig, and the rest of the Clinton crowd—we cannot be sure whether the telephone calls he exchanged with the Miami relatives last November revealed his true beliefs, or whether the agitprop we now hear is the real thing.

But we can be sure that nothing in the law requires the Justice Department to move with the dispatch it has exhibited in this case. Of all the cases that have come before her—scandal after scandal—this is the one Ms. Reno wants to resolve quickly, as if young Elian were suffering under the care of his Miami family. Those of us who have had the privilege of interviewing people who have escaped from Castro’s Gulags can tell Ms. Reno a thing or two about human suffering. But first she has to open her mind to the subject—a mind that thus far has been closed by an impoverished understanding of the rule of law.

Roger Pilon, Ph.D., J.D.
Vice President for Legal Affairs
B. Kenneth Simon Chair in Constitutional Studies
Director, Center for Constitutional Studies
Cato Institute

Roger Pilon, vice president for legal affairs, holds the B. Kenneth Simon Chair in Constitutional Studies at the Cato Institute and is the founder and director of Cato’s Center for Constitutional Studies.