Elian Gonzalez is a Cuban national who, as a child in 2000, became the center of an international custody and immigration battle rooted in Cold War politics.
Elizabeth Brotons Rodriguez, Gonzalez’s mother, drowned in November 1999 while attempting to leave Cuba and reach America with her son and her boyfriend. The U.S.Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) initially placed Gonzalez with relatives in Miami.
When a United States district court ruled that only Gonzalez’s father, and not his extended relatives, could petition for asylum on the child’s behalf, federal agents removed Gonzalez from his American relatives and given back to his father in Cuba in June 2000.
President Bill Clinton and then Attorney General, Janet Reno, ordered the return of Elian Gonzalez to his father with a deadline of April 13, 2000. Gonzalez’s Miami relatives defied the order, continuing negotiations with hopes of regaining custody.
On April 20, Reno made the decision to remove Elian Gonzalez from the house. Before dawn, on April 22, Border Patrol agents forcibly entered the house, while pepper spraying any protestor outside the house who approached too close.
Elian was returned to Cuba on June 28, 2000. This ordeal was a polarizing event in America. Many people viewed Gonzalez’s return to his father as a good thing because the child belonged with his father and that was of ultimate importance. Other people felt that to defy Gonzalez’s mother’s dying wish: to give her son a better life in America, and instead send him back to be brainwashed by the Communist groupthink was more important than reuniting him with his father.