Elian Gonzalez Case

Effects of the Elian Gonzalez Case

Several significant cases in the country have affected different arms of the government, especially the judiciary. For example, the Marbury v. Madison case, which dates back in 1803, helped in increasing the courts’ power and the overall power of the judicial system to interpret the law. Few cases have affected law enforcement agencies often originating from the pressures of the citizens against certain law enforcement actions. One such case is the Elian Gonzalez case, which was more of a custody battle surrounding the custody of Elian Gonzalez. To understand the case and its effects on law enforcement both in Florida and the entire country, a detailed study will be presented in line with the requirement.

 

Background of the Elian Gonzalez Case

The Elian Gonzalez case started with the events of November 1999’s when Elian Gonzalez, a five years old boy, together with two others were found floating in the sea near the coast of Florida (Demo, 2007). The incident happened after Elian and some of his family members, including his own mother, set sails towards the US with a faulty boat. Bad weather led to the capsizing of the boat and the eventual drowning of all those who were aboard including Elian’s mother. Two of the survivors alongside Elian survived and were rescued by fishermen who played the role of good Samaritans by rushing Elian to the nearest hospital in the US where he was treated and released (Demo, 2007).

Later on, Gonzalez was placed well under his uncle’s care by INS, Immigration and Naturalization Service. Earlier, Elian’s father, Juan Miguel had informed Elian’s uncle, Lazaro that the boy’s mother and others had left Cuba for the US without his knowledge. However, with the support of several of his friends, Lazaro decided to keep the boy instead of returning him home to his paternal father. The batter ensued as Miguel together with his Nationals demanded the release of the boy from his uncle’s custody. The Cuban authorities joined this battle since they engaged in the demand that the boy should be returned to his father. The case moved to the court and quickly became famous as a result of media speculations. Fidel Castro, the Cuban president, joined the case as he sent an immediate statement to the US requesting urgent deportation of the young boy. However, there were certain delays from the US side.

Earlier, Lazaro, the boy’s uncle had petitioned for the boy’s asylum that he had petitioned on behalf of the young boy. It was dismissed by the federal judge, and the new custodian vowed to appeal. The battle moved to the Court of Appeal, which ruled that the boy should stay until the case was resolved. However, the federal authorities were ordered to take the boy back to his father, but the order was defied by the US relatives. Law enforcement authorities from the border patrol forced their way inside Elian’s family in the US. Using pepper spray and force, the law enforcement authorities confronted the boy and the family, took him away, and reunited him with his father.

However, the use of force by law enforcement authorities was caught on camera by some photographers and was publicized in the media. The latter led to serious protests since people protested against the use of force by law enforcement authorities. The boy and the father remained in the US as the US relatives exhausted all efforts to have the boy remain with them until it was fully decided that the boy could go back to his country with his paternal father (Demo, 2007).

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The Effects of Elian Gonzalez Case on the State of Florida

The State of Florida which acted as the entry point of the boy to the country suffered substantially. First, the peace of the state was disrupted due to the demonstrations in its second-largest city, Miami. The state had a hard time struggling with which decision to take, whether to hand over the boy to the father or the uncle. The state suffered further from the humiliation of its courts after the family court pronounced Lazaro’s temporal custody of the child. Besides, the attorney general dismissed the orders granted by Florida’s court since they never had any jurisdiction.

The state further suffered another humiliation when the police officers from the Federal Department raided Elian Gonzalez relative’s residence in Miami without following the country’s laws. Therefore, Florida was criticized over the evils of the federal government (Dillman, 2002). Due to the political temperatures arising from the case, the officials of the state of Florida including the senators were put under unnecessary heat to try and find a solution that would keep the boy in the country (Dillman, 2002). The move further haunted the majority of the leaders from the state since they were never considered by the voters during the general elections.

Most of them were sent packing, especially from the Republican side. Last, the Cuban-American citizens from Florida exposed themselves to the majority of the people of the United States of America and, therefore, reduced the chances of any member of the state being considered for a political position in the federal government. Most of the destruction that happened to the state was the damage to its reputation and the destruction of the image of the main city of Miami due to the demonstrations.

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In the article about the effects of the case on Florida, the Associated Press explains that the case had effects on immigrants living in Florida and specifically Cuban immigrants even after a year later. A survey that was done later found that the case led to ethnic and racial divisions between Cubans and American blacks as well as whites. Some of them still believe that Cubans are weak. Additionally, the case affected the way the state of Florida voted for its state’s leader. For example, Al Gore was voted less as a way of showing dissatisfaction with the way the case was handled by the government. The image of Cuban-Americans in Florida was not the only one affected in this case. Instead, the face of Florida, as a state, was affected since protesters helped in tarnishing the image of the state through their actions (Associated Press, 2000).

Apart from bringing a racial division, the case caused a division about the tactics used in returning the boy to the father. According to a NYT article, the arguments not only divided the people, but brought divisions among politicians. Law enforcement officers were left divided in relation to the debate. Some of the law enforcement officers argued that the decision to use force was foolish since the matter was quite simple. On the other hand, the defenders of the action, argued that the results of the use of force did not injure anyone. In addition, they argued that the operation led to the returning of the boy within hours meaning that it led to a quick resolution. The actions of the law enforcement officers were viewed as necessary since they had a right to defend themselves in case there were weapons in the house. One of the best arguments presented by those who supported the law enforcement officers was that such an action was necessary to allow the boy to live a normal life (Natta, 2000).

In one of the statements that show this division, one of the persons supporting the actions of the government and the law enforcement agencies was quoted saying:

“Thank you Mr. President and Ms. Reno for ending this disgraceful episode. One look at that sweet child's face in the AP photo says it all. This shameful event has at least served one good purpose. It has shown the thugs in Miami for what they are. Forty years of special privileges have given the United States a ghetto of old Batista gangsters” (BBC News, 2000).

In their article on the use of force by the police, in this case, AELE (2014) explained that civil liabilities are likely to occur from the use of force and chemicals by law enforcement officers. Mostly, the costs arise from private lawsuits, official inquiries and public condemnation. The journal continues to cite different cases where civil liability has been incurred. However, they argue Elian’s case was different since the actions by the law enforcement authorities were reasonable (AELE, 2014). The above shows that the opinion of the public in this matter is still divided until this day.

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The Financial Effect of the Case on the Law Enforcement Agencies

Apart from leading to increased division and racism, the Gonzalez Case affected law enforcement agencies in financial ways. The department had to pay for the illegal activities they exercised to keep the child with the father. Florida’s state law enforcement department incurred costs during the rescue and maintenance of the boy within their premises. The move, which was considered by protesters as an assassin move, incurred heavy costs to the state’s law enforcement agency since it was forced to cool down demonstrations in Miami. This was after American citizens who were against the separation of the boy from the Cuban relatives by force took to the street to protest these actions (Leavister, 2001).

Further costs were incurred during the change of policies to guide such cases in the future. For example, the law enforcement department had to spend money in the passing of the “wet feet/dry feet” policy which required that asylum from then onwards could only be granted in the county where an immigrant touched the Florida ground on feet (Leavister, 2001). Based on the mentioned policy, those who reached wet feet could immediately undergo repatriation. The state-organized a lot of meetings trying to pass an appropriate policy to avoid a similar shame in the future, and a lot of money was used in the process.

Other expenses were incurred by Florida senators as they tried to push a law that would have made Elian Gonzalez a citizen of the United States of America, a move which eventually failed (Leavister, 2001). The numerous expenses could have been avoided since international law supported the father’s custody of the boy.

As a result of the incident not only cost the people of Florida but cost the US in general since the case was highly politicized and needed the intervention of various people including the Vice President. As explained earlier, Al Gore who, as a presidential candidate during this saga, suffered a huge blow in his political dream since he lost his presidential seat due to the poor performance and the manner in which the law enforcement officers handled the case.

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The Impact of the Elian Gonzalez Case on Law Enforcement in America

According to Dillman (2002), the manner in which the Elian Gonzalez case was handled by both the courts and the law enforcement agency in the country, reflected weakness in the whole law enforcement system. To start with, the immigration and the naturalization officials placed the boy under his uncle’s custody while still knowing that only the father had the right over the boy’s custody. It was done despite the fact that the child relatives did not have a primary right over the child as this could only be exercised by the boy’s father who was in Cuba (Dillman, 2002).

The manner in which the Immigration and the Naturalization officer’s raided Elian uncle’s premises using force was questionable under the standards of the US law. Analysts argue that the move was made in fear of Fidel Castro, the President of Cuba who had issued threats of boycotting meetings with the US if the case was not properly resolved. Consequently, the heavily armed Immigration and Naturalization Service officers broke into Elian uncle's premises and took the boy. Such an action increased the public’s attention in relation to their use of brutality and force. Dillman (2002) argues that the police in America once again proved to the public that they were incapable of conducting their operations with the minimal use of force based on the law’s requirements. Therefore, the case tainted the image of police officers for their inability to follow the law and this ashamed the country as a whole.

Additionally, the case increased the need for such agencies as CRS Community Relations Service, which is engaged in resolving conflicts and preventing violence in the country. The agency, which helps in assisting local and state officials in resolving their conflicts, applied proper mediation practices. Based on a report, the department facilitated communication between the community leaders at Florida and INS officials to prevent the occurrence of violence as a result of this case.

The agency continuously assessed the situation and reported to the US Attorney’s office. After the case was resolved months later, the organization intervened to make sure that large scale violence in the state was not caused. Additionally, the organization made sure that racial tensions were cooled down and that community reconciliation was realized. The organization oversaw different demonstrations and made sure that they were peaceful and that the city was unified in terms of racial and ethnic divisions (Community Relations Service, 2000).

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Changes Made in the Law Enforcement After the Elian Gonzalez Case

The Elian Gonzalez case acted as a wake-up call to the law enforcement officers concerning both changes to the law and the whole operations at large. One of the changes that the law enforcement officers made was to avoid making any decision related to custody matters. They left the decisions to the courts. Initially, the Immigration and the Naturalization officials had the power to decide on their own. However, the case changed, and immigration officers became more sensitive towards matters of custody, especially the custody of illegal immigrants (Dillman, 2002).

In addition, law enforcement officers became more alert in relation to the entry of immigrants within the borders of Florida. In fact, the department decided to come up with a new policy governing the entry of immigrants within its borders. Previous laws had made the borders porous so that the Cuban immigrants could easily enter the country illegally. Therefore, the new laws forced law enforcement officers to be more responsive. Only immigrants on the basis of political asylum could be accepted in the county under the new policy. Others would be sent home (Dillman, 2002).

The manhandling of Elian Gonzalez was captured on camera by a photographer, and this gave rise to a heavily heated debate in relation to the powers of the police officers in using excessive force. Therefore, police were under scrutiny. For this reason, they worked hard to make sure that reforms were followed in the Immigration and Naturalization Department.

Conclusion

In conclusion, one of the few cases that have affected the Law Enforcement arm of the government is the case involving the custody and the immigration of Elian Gonzalez which was rather damaging on the face of the United States of America and especially the weaknesses of its Immigration and Naturalization Department officers. The case which brought a heated debate as to who bore the custody of the child between the uncle in Miami and the father in Cuba made the United States of America cautious about its Admission of illegal immigrants within its borders. Tight measures including changing the immigration policies were, therefore, put in place to curb future occurrences of similar situations. However, at the end of the court battle, no party won like Fidel Castro as his dictatorship had worked in threatening the United States of America.

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