What may have been the world’s most closely watched custody battle became a cause célèbre that reached the U.S. Supreme Court, strained U.S.-Cuba relations, and had future political repercussions.
On Thanksgiving Day in 1999, a five-year-old Cuban boy named Elián González was found clinging to a rubber inner tube floating off the coast of South Florida. Five days earlier, the boy had left Cárdenas, Cuba, on a seventeen-foot boat with his mother and twelve others hoping to reach the United States. When the vessel sank during a storm, Elián and a young couple were the only survivors.
After the U.S. Coast Guard turned Elián over to the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), INS agents paroled Elián to the family of his great-uncle Lázaro González, who were living in Miami’s
Havana taxi passing a public poster calling for Elián González’s return to his homeland in early 2000.
U.S. President Bill
Six days afterward, the U.S. government ended a six-day hostage standoff in a Louisiana jail by secretly negotiating with Cuba to settle the deportation demands of six criminals who had arrived in Florida during the 1980
On April 12, 2000, Reno ordered the Florida relatives to surrender Elián. The family defied her and obtained an injunction keeping the boy in America. Ten days later, Reno authorized a predawn raid by 151 heavily armed federal agents who battered in the door of Elián’s relatives’ home and seized him. The boy was then reunited in Washington, D.C., with his father, who had arrived in the capital city two weeks earlier.
On June 1, the Eleventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the INS had acted properly in denying Elián asylum but ordered that the boy remain in the United States pending the appeal of his great-uncle’s case. Three weeks later, the court reaffirmed its decision, which was challenged by the Miami family in the U.S. Supreme Court on June 26. Two days later, the Court declined to intervene, and Elián and his father immediately returned home to a hero’s welcome in Cuba.
In 2003, Elián’s father, whom
De los Angeles Torres, Maria. In the Land of Mirrors: Cuban Exile Politics in the United States. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1999. Diaz, Guarione M. The Cuban American Experience: Issues, Perceptions, and Realities. St. Louis, Mo.: Reedy Press, 2007. Fernandez, Alfredo A. Adrift: The Cuban Raft People. Houston, Tex.: Arte Público Press, 2000.
Immigration and Naturalization Service, U.S.
Supreme Court, U.S.