Sorry about America, Elian

Commentary by Pete du Pont
I've waited patiently for some sign of remorse from the Clinton Administration, or even some outpouring of outrage by the American people about the raid in Miami Easter weekend. Seeing neither, I would like to apologize to Elian Gonzales. I have no particular standing to do so, but the president won't, and someone should.

I had thought our country opened its arms to "the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free," as it says on the Statue of Liberty. Who better than little Elian matches up with these criteria? His mother gave her life so that her son could breathe free, so that he could escape the physical and moral poverty of a totalitarian society.

I thought the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, a part of our Bill of Rights, guaranteed "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures." Could there be a more violent infringement of this right than to have government agents armed with submachine guns - finger on the trigger or not - forcibly abduct you into the night? While your case is pending in a federal court? Considering you are neither a violent nor criminal person, but a 6-year old child?

The Fourth Amendment was adopted to prevent exactly what the government did in this case: breaking down a door and seizing a person it wants without seeking the advance approval of a court to do so. Now Clinton and Reno do argue that they did in fact have a warrant. But the warrant the government had was flawed, seeking to seize an illegal alien, which Elian is not.

I had thought that America was a better country than that, but now that the infamous photograph of the government-instigated kidnapping has been broadcast around the world, we sadly appear no better than many others. Our president justifies the violence with "the law has been upheld," but it is, in fact, the reverse -- our commitment to liberty has been undercut, trampled, sullied. What the president and the attorney general did strikes at the heart of two centuries of constitutionally enshrined American liberty.

On April 19 the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Elian was entitled to a hearing on his appeal for asylum, and that hearing is scheduled for May 11. Importantly, the court was clear that the government was overstepping its bounds in claiming that Elian had no standing to seek asylum.

A second injunction was issued on April 25, specifically directing that Elian not be moved to any place within the United States lying beyond the jurisdiction of the U.S. Courts -- say, the Cuban Embassy. Why do you suppose a court would even think that Bill Clinton or Janet Reno would do such a thing?

But the fundamental question is, with Elian scheduled to have his day in court May 11, why would the heavies of the Department of Justice and the Immigration Service suddenly mount a paramilitary operation to seize the child?

Perhaps because they believe they will lose in court again, and had better act fast. Perhaps to get the child in his father's care so that when the court grants asylum his father can say he doesn't need it and return with him to Cuba? Or maybe to teach Cuban Americans -- a noisy, independent and conservative minority -- a lesson?

Perhaps all three, but it was a lesson in might making right that has brought shame to America internationally, and distrust and suspicion at home. If the government can with impunity violate Elian's liberty and person, could we be next?

 

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