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Dispatches The Buzz

A year later: Disturbing Elián revelations

GONZALEZ CASE | Document suggests INS knew about but ignored evidence of coercion | by Mindy Belz

White House operatives who succeeded Bill Clinton rightly decided that the less said about the former president the better. But TeamBush would be wise to excavate at least one confused chapter in Mr. Clinton's presidency: the immigration battle over Cuban rafter Elián González.

Documents filed in a discrimination case in Miami could prove to be the smoking gun in the case of the 6-year-old boy who washed to Florida's shore on Thanksgiving Day 1999. A memo summarizing a teleconference between Immigration and Naturalization Service Commissioner Doris Meissner and U.S. immigration officials in Miami suggests the Clinton administration knew Cuban officials were coercing Elián's father, Juan Miguel González, to demand Elián's return to Cuba. The immigration officers also had information that Mr. González himself filed a request with the U.S. Interests Section in Havana to emigrate prior to Elián's crossing to America by boat-a journey that ended in the death of Elián's mother.

The new data came to light when a disgruntled employee filed a claim against the immigration agency's Miami office, charging harassment and anti-Cuban bias.

A two-page memo entered as evidence in the case outlines the Dec. 29, 1999, conference call between Washington and Miami. Immigration officers acknowledged that Juan Miguel made contact with his Miami relatives before Elián's rescue, asking them in two phone calls from Cuba to take care of the boy. Later calls, they noted, may have been "monitored and coerced."

At one point, according to the memo, several in the meeting indicated that if coercion were involved, "they could potentially accept the child's asylum application and advise that there is no prohibition on age to a child filing application. As such, PA should proceed." INS guidelines allow unaccompanied minors to apply for "PA," or political asylum.

Ms. Meissner and others in the meeting rejected this advice. On Dec. 30, 1999, INS attorney Rebecca Sanchez Roig noted in a signed, handwritten addition at the bottom of the memo, Ms. Meissner ordered the destruction of all copies of the Roig memo. She also instructed employees "not to put anything regarding Elián González in writing."

One week later, Ms. Meissner disregarded the assertions of her own attorneys that Mr. González might be under duress to demand Elián's return, and announced that Elián would be returned to Cuba. Attorney General Janet Reno agreed. She told lawyers for Elián's Miami relatives, in a Jan. 12, 2000 letter, Ms. Meissner "is confident ... that the father has expressed his true wishes in asking that his son be returned to him."

Today, Elián at home in Cardenas goes to school with two guards who change off every block. "They won't allow anyone to get anywhere close to him," an independent journalist who recently visited Cardenas and asked for reasons of safety not to be identified told WORLD. "Not even the family here can talk to him."

Run against the court

SUPREME COURT | Child porn ruling creates an opportunity for Bush to reshape the high court

The Supreme Court last week handed TeamBush a defeat-and an opportunity. In striking down a law aimed at "simulated" child pornography, the justices, as Attorney General John Ashcroft put it, made it "immeasurably more difficult" to protect children from pornographers and predators. They also made it immeasurably easier for President Bush to explain why the Senate shouldn't stand in the way of future court nominees committed to a more common-sense understanding of the First Amendment.

The very idea that the child porn law might result in the prosecution of the producers of Academy Awards winners like American Beauty and Traffic ("few legitimate movie producers ... would risk distributing images in or near the uncertain reach of this law," said Justice Anthony Kennedy for the court) would be laughable if it were not so serious. The law has been on the books since 1996, dissenting Chief Justice William Rehnquist pointed out, and the two movies in question won awards in 2000 and 2001: "The chill felt by the court ... has apparently never been felt by those who actually make movies."

Justices Sandra Day O'Connor and Clarence Thomas joined in the decision striking down the law, but they did not fully embrace the constitutional theory the majority outlined. They indicated a willingness to embrace a more narrowly tailored law.

Here's the TeamBush opportunity to create a political climate more favorable to conservative judicial nominees: Attorney General Ashcroft has already indicated a willingness to fight harder to bring child pornographers to justice under existing laws. Prosecutions are much more difficult under those laws, but that alone should keep the spotlight on a Supreme Court that is hampering Bush administration efforts to-Mr. Ashcroft says-"protect our children from the pornographers and other predators who would prey on their innocence."

Mr. Bush clearly does not relish a fight over a judicial nominee's views on the Roe vs. Wade abortion decision whenever a vacancy opens on the high court. But he can gain wide support by shifting the focus to the damage the court has done to federal government efforts to crack down on child pornography.

Same WORLD, new look

REDESIGN | The WORLD you expect in a new set of clothes

No doubt you've already noticed a different look and feel to this week's WORLD-and not just because this is a special issue. The art directors selected new headline and article typefaces to enhance readability, and generally tweaked the design to give WORLD a fresh new look. The body of the magazine is the same WORLD you've come to depend upon. We just put some nice new clothes on it.